There is the CO2 Money Pipeline. And then there is the Darwinian Tunnel Vision that feeds it.
3.5 billion years ago life started emerging on Earth. A single cell, our common ancestor, began to develop into separate species. At first only about a handful of fragile life forms emerged, barely distinguishable from each other to the naked eye. But fast forward a few million years, and an incredible diversity of life developed, enough to provide material for countless David Attenborough documentaries. Enough to still hold closely-kept secrets, wonders and mysteries that remain to be discovered even today, at an age when we arrogantly think that we know everything, having catalogued as much as we could of this wonder in our encyclopaedias, museums and genetic banks. We think that we understand Earth’s infinite diversity and complexity. We think that, by recording everything in pixels, bytes and megabytes, we understand what it’s all about and how it came together over millions of years. That by simply looking at the individual parts, we can get a sense of how the sum of it all functions. But we don’t realise that the “sum” is actually not just a sum of the parts. It is an organism by itself.
And that we in fact, still have no clue of how ecosystems evolve, live and breathe and change over time. How they are the most prized life-form of all: intricate and seemingly chaotic on the surface, but unbelievably simple and balanced in their operating principles.
Separate or Connected?
As species diversified further, they began to form increasingly complex relationships with each other. And here is where the beautiful paradox emerged: the more the species evolved away from each other, becoming birds, fish, terrestrial mammals and insects, the more they depended on each other at the same time. While on the surface it may appear all species are engaged in brutal conflict, as they antagonize each other, eat each other, or compete for the same habitat, they are in fact all part of one big organism. This principle was beautifully explored and illustrated in the biosci-fi movie Avatar, which is actually not fiction. All species on this planet are different and same at the same time, and undoubtedly connected and dependent on each other for their survival. Yet somehow, the way that human popular culture perceives them is exclusively through a single lens, focusing on the conflict and competition aspects of species interrelationships, without much of an awareness of the underlying harmony of it all. This is the toxicity that as a species we have brought to this planet.
The Ignorant Butterfly Collector
As a consequence, our obsession with cataloguing and recording other life forms merely conceals a fatal flaw in the simplistic way in which we view the living planet: we focus on its individual parts, the different species, rather than the common heritage that all these species share. Like a butterfly collector, we pay more attention to how species differ from each other, as opposed to the things that they share in common. It is a “catch them all” Pokemon game mentality. The more sizes and colours of butterflies there are, the more exciting the chase is. The butterfly collector though doesn’t know anything about butterflies. All they see, and all they care about, is that they are different sizes and shapes. They want to own them, pin them down, and arrange them by size. Why?
What may appear to be a benign “scientific curiosity” to understand the world through our “butterfly-collecting” scientific fields, is actually much more evil. We are purposely seeking the differences between species and types, like in a magic picture game, because it is the differences which “help” us make sense of the world. They help us understand who is on top: is it the lion or the zebra? We view the biological world as a series of conflicts, as opposed to harmonious balances. Why?
Differences help us create power structures. Differences help us exploit. We actively seek differences and hierarchies all the time, so that we can find ways to dominate.
Racism: what capitalism thrives on
We follow this process of inter-species chauvinism in exactly the same way within our own species: It is called racism in its more narrow form, but what it really is, is an extension of what we have done to the rest of the species of the planet: in our desperate quest for differences that we can exploit, we have spent thousands of years asking ourselves whether White people are smarter than Black people. Ofcourse capitalism gave us the answer we were looking for, which suited white people. Black people were in fact a separate species altogether, and a “lesser” one that didn’t even deserve to share public facilities with white people. Slavery and colonialism set the foundations of today’s global economic system, where nothing has really changed since the days of slavery: people of colour may be free on paper, but still struggle more than whites for opportunities and economic prosperity. Ball and chains have been replaced by debt slavery. The same principles of exploitation, the lifeblood of capitalism, exist into today.
Bio-chauvinism knows no species boundaries: whether it is a thousand year-old rainforest tree being cut down or a human indigenous tribe exterminated, it is all done under the same principle: they deserved it, because they are “lesser” life forms. They were not high enough in the hierarchy.
What the hell is “intelligence” anyway?
Funnily and randomly enough, the way in which we assign hierarchies to species is by whether we consider them intelligent or not. We are obsessed about whether dolphins are more intelligent than the octopus, and we have been making similar assumptions within our own species based on biological phenotype i.e. how people look. In fact the Greek word phenotype means exactly what it is. The precise translation of the word means “how things appear to be on the outside”.
The problem with choosing “intelligence” as a criterion for inter- and intra-species hierarchies is our own definition of it. An intelligent species to us is one that is “problem-solving”, like a chimp able to ask for more bananas or an octopus able to get itself out of a trap. It is a definition of intelligence that again is based on conflict, and competition.We basically consider a species “intelligent” based on how likely it is to get itself out of a mess, or how effective it is in screwing up all the other species in order to dominate. We judge intelligence by human standards, although humans are clearly failing to tick the box “getting out of a mess” with climate change.
But essentially the principle which capitalism, our politics, social structure and religion revere and exploit is that the more “intelligent” species should be treated with slightly more respect, because they are “worth” more. The less “intelligent” species should become food or even go extinct, because they are dumb and cannot take care of themselves anyway.
Are we really the most intelligent species?
Emotional intelligence of course is not part of this “intelligent” criteria, because apparently only humans possess it. The wild fox that ended up nursing baby Koalas after the Australian fires was widely seen as non-sentient and aberrant, as if it had followed some instinctive motherly response, whereas in fact, it is highly likely that the fox made a conscious, sentient decision to adopt the koalas.
It can easily be argued that humans are, in fact, the least intelligent species on the planet. It is the species destroying it.
to be continued…