Delusions of Independence

It has been eons since humanity committed the ultimate cosmic hubris:  to dare go it alone, leaving behind the 8 million-strong species it had co-evolved with.  Like a rebellious teenager clueless of what they wanted to do with their life, humans one night dashed out of the window, abandoning the family who had nurtured them for 3.8 billion years.  Entering the unknown, they hid amongst the dark shadows at the edge of the ecosystem, where they began to morph into a bizarre, sometimes beautiful, but undoubtedly sinister new world: one that was selfishly intended for humans, and humans alone. 

Prompted more by impulse rather than thought or deliberation, the teenagers had forever left behind their little village, trading it in for the big, ugly city they were about to construct.  They could now mold their new environment any which way they wanted:  keeping it as untidy as they liked, surviving on drugs and junk food, playing their music as loud as they wanted.  They had gotten what they wanted, which was to break the rules of the ecosystem, leave all of nature behind, and try to forget it as quickly as possible like a bad nightmare. 

The city’s architectural style was meant to be a bold statement of independence from nature, as well as a full-on affront, a declaration of war towards Earth itself: it was a vision of a city that was so ugly, so inhospitable to life that no species would ever dare to dwell in it, except for humans.  As a matter of fact, within the confines of the city, the teenager had indeed managed to banish all life forms, bar the occasional ornamental tree or lingering “pest”. 

Without nature’s artistic input to illuminate dark corners or soften sharp spikes, buildings would evolve into stiff and desolate monolithic monuments of untold brutality.  Humans tried to give these cities names, so that people would feel less intimidated by them and visit them.  But as they grew in size further and further, the teenager’s prophetic vision would come true:  The city would become a place exclusively for humans, given that no other species on Earth could tolerate so much toxicity, noise, pollution, filth and violence on a daily basis,100 percent of it self-inflicted.  It must have taken immense greed on the part of the architects to be so blind to pollution and destruction, to come to believe that somehow this desolate, toxic landscape was a vision of progress, and an investment into their children’s future.  By building megacities, humans had succeeded in shutting nature out while at the same time creating a prison for themselves. 

The story of the city had been one of annihilation all along.  Today, humanity is responsible for the existence of some of the most abysmally ugly and depressing, hostile, toxic and dangerous environments on Earth, most of them created on lands that were once part of the most rich, habitable zones of the planet.  River deltas, fertile valleys, sun-kissed coastlines once buzzing with an almost infinite array of life forms, were aggressively taken over and replaced by monocultures of humans who offered nothing to the local area other than mechanically reproducing more and more copies of themselves. 

However ugly, inhospitable and sterile the city was, it would charm humans with its eerie grandeur and illuminated look and feel.  They would admire it and feel powerful, knowing that they were the architects of this monstrous, bizarre new world.  Sitting on a narrative of accomplishment and power that was now comparable to that of the Creator himself, the teenage humans were able to continue to feed the delusion that they didn’t need the village anymore, even though it continued to be the source of all their food, oxygen and water. 

Everything outside of the city was seen as a cheap resource by now, and the teenager’s arrogance grew day by day, as they descended into a spiral of addiction and mental illness exacerbated by the city itself.  Instead of abandoning their concrete fortress and returning to the village, they would choose to stay here, in this concrete hell hole, and somehow build their life upon, and around, their mounting addictions, obsessions, and psychoses.  In order to work around their mental turmoil, they would in fact end up creating a civilization where all of these psychoses and mental health handicaps were not only considered normal but would become useful skills.  It would be a civilization where the most psychotic and unstable personalities were welcomed and, would in fact thrive.  They would be the most successful, enabling humanity to live not necessarily a happy, but at least a functional existence within their brutal, soul-destroying cities.

Today, humans have largely become accustomed to their own anxiety, depression, greed, schizophrenia and loneliness. They have successfully erected a civilization, economy and society that are almost exclusively powered by a wide assortment of mental illnesses which have been masterfully hidden and rebranded as skills, talents and inclinations.  If at any point a citizen of the city wakes up and realizes that they are in fact mentally unstable, there are many painkillers which can help them go back to their “happy” sleep: drugs, alcohol, Netflix movies, and an endless, almost infinite range of consumer products which will distract them and reward them for being such a good sport and taking all this urban abuse on the chin.

Back in the village, the cherry trees that bloom every spring, the goldfish in the pond, have no idea that they’ve been turned into villains.  They live in fear that their grown-up teenager may one day come back to the village and burn it all down, turn the trees into furniture, the fish into sushi.  The junkie teenager intends to sell it all off to buy more drugs.  The planet is suffering the tragic consequences of humans having effectively domesticated themselves, then outsourced this domestication to the Thing. An economic system pumped full of growth hormones is now breeding estranged generations of increasingly brainwashed, unhealthy human cattle, unaware of what is approaching.

Most of humanity today still thinks like a teenager.  It continues to hold that turning our back on nature was not only the right decision, but a natural and unavoidable progression for our species.  The teenager may have grown, but they are more stubborn than ever, and ever more hateful towards the family they abandoned.  They’ve had their own kids by now, who have grown up entirely in the city, and who have an even more naïve and estranged relationship with nature, unaware of its importance in keeping the city alive.  In fact, to them nature is an alien world somewhere far out in the distance.  They have no ecological conscience, because all they know is the tiny concrete bubble of the city.  They don’t know that this bubble is nested within a much bigger, more important one, Earth’s global ecology.  Ecology is bigger than capitalism, bigger than human civilization itself. Yet for most humans today, ecology takes place somewhere in the sidelines of our existence, or in a classroom, or a nature documentary. We fail to grasp the gravity of our ignorance of basically almost everything that exists, having eyes and ears only for what happens inside our tiny artificial bubble.  Desperate to prop-up its delusions about its estrangement, over the course of millennia our civilization would go on to masterfully craft countless false narratives about human supremacy over nature, which it vilified as a wild, hostile beast to be tamed and used by trophy hunters.  The grown-up teenager today still uses these narratives to convince themselves that they had made the right decision to leave the village.  They are the lullabies they sing to themselves, every time it becomes momentarily clear that they in fact have failed not only their family but also themselves, and that these cities are in fact killing them.

The city has grown so much now that its inhabitants are completely ignorant of what is outside of it.  The edges of the city are expanding as they blindly consume the countryside, like an unstoppable fungus on its way to completing its lifecycle.   Arrogantly obsessed with growth, human civilization has no idea that it is already finished. It is spending imaginary money it doesn’t have on resources which are permanently disappearing, to raise a generation of humans who will be fighting for food.  Amongst all our achievements, the planet’s destruction risks becoming our ultimate legacy, casting its shadow over everything and anything that has preceded it: any trip to the moon, brilliant invention or work of art ever created.  By rejecting nature, humans wanted to assert their independence.  What they discovered instead was a new kind of infinite loneliness, the product of a world which they had largely made extinct.  We are not only lonely, but increasingly alone on this planet.  Even parasites are part of the ecosystem, which they need for their survival: their existence depends wholly upon the hosts they have infected, who become part of the jury in their final reckoning. 

Whether we are a parasite or not, as more of our family members across the seven biological kingdoms disappear, we are left without our life support.  Earth only works as a federation of 8 million species, not a dictatorship of one. As this civilization comes to a close the teenager will soon lose their job, go bankrupt, and will need a home to return to, but this home won’t be there.  Reducing our view of nature to a mere peripheral part of our existence is not only naïve and arrogant, but a death sentence for us. The more estranged from their roots new generations of humans become, the more diabetes, Alzheimer’s, sterility and a myriad of deteriorating mental illnesses will guarantee that the door to our future remains firmly shut. 

George is an author, researcher, chemist, molecular biologist and food scientist. You can follow him on Twitter @99blackbaloons or enjoy his books

5 thoughts on “Delusions of Independence

  1. Fine writing, and the message is crystalline, but what do you say to the folks who see the world going the way of that 8th paragraph, but not, for whatever reasons having to do with bizarre fate, themselves? No neuroses, no psychoses, no addictions, no loneliness, for now, and against the tide?

  2. Scathing, commentary, and yet, undeniably true. I live in rural upstate New York, and even in the countryside there is a colonist attitude towards the land. Now that over 50% of humans live in cities, and urban ideas have proliferated beyond those cities, I am not sure how we can turn this mindset around in time and prevent catastrophe for all living beings. Thank you for your writing.

  3. Unfortunately, tragically, wise people ,aka George, never gain positions of power. Our ability to be “lie” ve comforting myths is so amazing and tragic. Our collective naivete is something to behold. We are slow learners and surprisingly wishful thinking creatures. Optimistic to a fatal degree. Love Rick

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