Thursday, July 23, 2009

"...and let them have dominion...over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth." Gen 1:26

Sometimes I hate this place. Society, I mean. The human race. As a species we have caused more death, destruction, and desolation than anything else ever in the history of the planet. It is unclear whether humankind is the first intelligent creature in the universe, the only intelligent creature, the last, someplace in the middle, or perhaps not even intelligent at all. I’m inclined to go with the lattermost of those options, for reasons I will expound upon briefly.

What is the ultimate goal of life? A question posed to the sagest of minds across history, and one that I don’t presume to be able to answer correctly or thoroughly, but the question that nonetheless now captures my attention. Allow me to rephrase: what is the ultimate goal of living creatures? Put this way, the answer is simple: perpetuate the species. Create more life. Do not allow the group to perish. This simple and obvious truth needs no justification; just take a look at any creature that walks, swims, flies, crawls, slithers, trots, tumbles, or whatever else, and it will shortly become apparent that their primary objective is to eat enough to stay alive and reproduce.

We are no different. Oh, sure, we’ve got culture and art and technology and morals and a ton of other fancy intellectual gadgets, but what does it all come back to? Survival. Human beings seek endlessly to dominate this planet and transform it into the perfect habitat for our own kind. We play games with ourselves, trying to pretend that humankind is somehow “noble” and “unique” among the world’s creatures. We’re unique all right; no other beast on this rock is able to cause as much damage to the other beasts as we can. With the push of a button, we can annihilate huge portions of the landscape, wiping out anything that lives there and making the area uninhabitable for the remainder of the foreseeable future. Perhaps more terrifying than that is the fact that without even realizing it, we can still cause the death of dozens of animals, human or otherwise; pollution and terraforming alter the Earth in ways that have consequences we cannot foresee.

But there’s a deeper question here, and it’s this: What’s wrong with that? So what if we want to, in slightly cliché terms, take over the world? Isn’t it our prerogative to make an attempt? Isn’t it our right as one of many species to use our natural advantages to our, well, advantage? Shouldn’t we get as fair a shot as any other animal?


It is our prerogative. We do have the right. We’re part of this survival game too. Our ability to reason at a higher level than other creatures is an evolutionary advantage that we have literally no choice but to put to use. Human beings are captured beneath the yoke of self-awareness. Our capacity for conscious thought is simultaneously our greatest asset and our biggest flaw. With it, we are unable to do avoid using it. Without it, we could scarcely be considered human (not that that distinction means nearly as much as we’d like it to; after all, the line we draw is human/beast, and I’ve spent the last several paragraphs trying to blur that barrier).

So here we are. Capable of so much. The smartest creatures on the planet, or so we tell ourselves. Yet we live in denial of our nature. We are animals that masquerade as gods. And in our rush to birth a human-friendly Paradise, we forget that we’re just running the same kind of plays that other creatures run: eat, sleep, reproduce, die. Pass on the genes. Do it all again. Over and over and over. Our means change. We invent clever devices to do our work for us. But the goal remains the same.

And that’s why I feel so disenfranchised with the whole thing: because we pretend it isn’t true. Maybe it’s for the sake of our sanity? Maybe it’s because as we spill more oil and evict more rainforest denizens and murder each other over shiny lumps of compressed coal, we need to feel that it’s all somehow justified by our inherent uniqueness as a species? Maybe it’s just part of being self-aware?

Whatever the reason, too many people fail to see the difference between earning our place at the top of the food chain and deserving said position. We fought our way to the top. We were not put here. And until we can break free of our sense of entitlement, we’ll never understand our true nature as a species. I don’t have an objection to wanting to survive. All I want is for more people to realize that our toys may be different, but the game we’re playing is the same.


  1. I grew up an athiest, and at a fairly early age, I came to a similar conclusion: we're like every other species - we're here to perpetuate ourselves.

    It might sound trite, but I found the implications of this to be pretty staggering. The easiest way for a species to perpetuate itself is to breed, but do too much of that, and there's a population boom that leads to a collapse, which may lead to our extinction. So we need to control our growth. What's a great way of doing that? Educating women, and ensuring that their rights of self-determination are honoured.

    I found that following this train of reasoning lead pretty quickly to a reasonable, social-justice-y world view. Of course, I started out with a fairly left-wing bent, so it shouldn't be a surprise that I came to that conclusion.

  2. You are correct, in a way. We do indeed have dominion over all the earth. And, we may at times want to control all of it. But what should separate us from "beastly protocol" is a central value system. Hence, the rest of the bible. I'm sure if man "ruled" his "dominion" as God stated within Genesis, we would be fine. But we have strayed from that "value system" via independant "higher thinking" most of which end in "isms" (Socialism, Atheism, Denialism, etc).. Once we started "managing" the earth, as God intended, out of our own "wisdom" instead of by HIS value system, things did indeed begin to "go to hell in a handbasket." So I do indeed agree with yo my friend..

  3. There is no such thing as the purpose of life. Nature has no purpose. We humans invented purpose and it means what we want it to mean. And throughout our history we have shown it to be learning about the world and improving our quality of life. Some people make the arrogant claim that by trying to protect the environment they are escaping the human instinct to dominate other species. But species have always come and gone. And if our damage to the environment causes a mass extinction that includes us, it'll just be another change-of-guard, certainly no more disruptive than the K-T extinction. For all the pretense about protecting the earth, enviromentalists are actually trying to protect the human epoch. Conversely, those who wantonly demonstrate authority over other species are ultimately endangering humanity.