Spoiled Brats on a Generous Planet

How humans objectified the natural world

If you’ve been spoiled all your life, it really takes a tremendous amount of effort to even begin to appreciate all of the things that you have been taking for granted. The first thing you need to learn is what appreciation is in the first place, and that’s a really tough one, if you’ve never had to wish for things that you couldn’t have, ask for things that were not given to you, or dreamed of things that you were told not to dream of. But most of all, if you haven’t lost something or someone. Appreciation is unfortunately a lesson that we only learn when we lose something. As the saying goes, “you don’t know what you have till it’s gone”. And it is not so much about loving what we once had. As the saying goes, it is much more basic: it is about “knowing” what we have in the first place.

On this planet, most of the time we are blind to the miracle that surrounds us in every waking moment of our life. And this is because we never had to go to bed worrying whether the sun will be up the next morning, or whether the grass will be green as opposed to some other off-colour. Most of us never had to worry whether the water we drink will still be clean tomorrow, whether there will be enough fish to catch so that we can feed the family, or whether the air will be safe enough to breathe in the morning. Like a new tenant that has just moved into a flat, there are certain things like air, food, water, the right temperature, which the tenant falsely thinks are included as standard in their contract. They think they “came with the planet”, as if our planet is a minutes and data package from a phone company. We’ve had the package for so many millions of years now, that we’ve forgotten that in order to keep it, or the flat, we have to also stick to our part of the bargain. Don’t trash the place.

We do marvel at the most exotic aspects of our planet, often sitting mesmerised for hours in front of our TVs watching David Attenborough documentaries. But this takes on more of an entertainment value, as we become voyers and bystanders in a world which we forget that we, ourselves, are actually a part of. Like a theme park, you pay your ticket and get your day’s worth of fun, as your eyes move on from one display to another, one act to another, one fun ride to the next, without ever contemplating the significance of the things that you are seeing. Whether they are fish, trees or colourful birds, they are now lifeless. They have been productised, objectified for your entertainment. In our eyes, they have effectively become lifeless. Putting animals in cages is not only a productisation. It is deep down our desperate attempt to come closer to them, appreciate and understand them on some level. But we are very far from it.

As much as we are curious about the wonders of nature, our instinct to “own” these wonders is more powerful. However many documentaries we make, they will only be able to capture, at best efforts, a tiny fraction of what goes on in our natural world. Our obsession with “cataloguing” this world again is a result of our objectification of it, almost as if wanting to remember it because deep down we know that we will eventually destroy it. The memory, the recording of it, is more important than its actual survival into the future. But cataloguing, objectifying this miracle downgrades it from something of infinite value, to something with a beginning, and an end. Once the documentary finishes and the popcorn runs out, everything that we saw might as well never have existed.
But there is always more to discover, whether atop an isolated rock ecosystem, an unexplored ocean abyss, or under an iceberg. Earth is truly a collection of universes within the universe. It is almost a mystery how a single celestial object can be host to an endless diversity of such different, contrasting landscapes, life forms and ecosystems. It is literally a “world of worlds”, all of which coexist within a barely noticeable lonely rock revolving around the sun in an otherwise dark, empty and silent vacuum. Our story, the story of Earth, couldn’t possibly be more strange, surreal and miraculous.

Even the smartest team of designers would, almost certainly, fail to create our planet from scratch, using all their imagination and creativity, and supplied with all the elements in the periodic table. How could they after all, since they are themselves merely a tiny creation of this planet? They would miss the mark by a long shot in coming up with anything even remotely as complex, imaginative and logic-defying as the miracles we witness on Earth on a daily basis.

The planet “designers” would probably think that trees are impossible. How can these huge complex structures support their weight in the wind, tower over the land, sometimes hundreds of feet tall, and grow, producing millions of bright green leafs that feed on just air (CO2) and water? It sounds too good to be possible. It sounds like someone’s acid trip. Yet this miracle life form exists.

The same designers would also not even know where to begin when assembling the planet’s climate machine and circular systems: a collection of interdependent (yet independent) systems that recirculate temperature, water, nutrients, magma, air, electrical charge, radiation and oxygen throughout the planet in ingenious ways that we are still uncovering. How can a planet be full of so many ever-changing, dynamic and often aggressive and antagonising processes, yet somehow manage to “keep it all together”? The level of complexity of the Earth Machine is so vast, so deep that it will never be fully understood by humans or even a deep mind AI. It is a Swiss watch with an infinite number of gears and feedback loops. And living beings are an active part of it.

Yet, despite its infinite complexity and chaos, our planet is a highly regulated system. In fact, this Swiss watch is able to self-tune. Climate change deniers miss out on this critical insight because they cannot see beyond a few centimetres from their face: they only see the chaos of individual, seemingly unconnected events and “gears” happening right in front of them. They fail to see any connections. They just see their own reflection.

This is not surprising, because these people are part of the “rogue gear” in the Swiss watch: humans. Humans are the one gear that does not want to be regulated by the other gears. It wants to spin on its own, however it likes to and whenever it likes to. To continue with the watch metaphor, humans have broken the Swiss watch. They have broken the planet, and they are running down the clock.

This planet was too good to us. Like a spoiled brat whose every single wish was granted since birth, humans ate their way through the unlimited buffet of nature without ever saying thank you. They are now putting the restaurant out of business. And they don’t even know what they have done wrong. This is the problem with spoiled brats. Until they have some rude awakening, they cannot even begin to understand why their behaviour is unacceptable.

The system our civilisation was built on has followed “the brat way” of doing things: through bullying. It is a system that, without exception, has depended on exploitation, subjugation, discrimination, colonisation, resource appropriation and genocide for its own survival.

This brat is fat. It’s rude. It’s dumb. And at school it is a bully, and its gonna steal your lunch.

So how do brats become adults? Please put your parent hats on. The first thing you do is to make your brat know what deprivation is, how it feels, and how you should therefore not do it to someone else. You take things away from them for a while. You withhold their allowance. You teach them how to stop, and why. This is the lesson that COVID-19 is already teaching us. You can’t change the brat if you don’t make the brat unhappy. It’s time for the brat to be grounded. Is this lockdown our last warning?

to be continued…(or not)

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3 thoughts on “Spoiled Brats on a Generous Planet

  1. Ha, do you know how much I love to say “spoiled brats?” I really enjoy your writing. Just ordered Disposable Earth.

    1. Thank you very much Joann! Yes, I use the brat metaphor a lot, I find it quite appropriate. Hope you enjoy the book. It is being updated with new chapters, so is Age of Separateness. But you will find most of the material in my blog anyway.

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