Purchase Endgame
Read more

Excerpt from Endgame

Humans Naturally Destructive (p. 537)

From chapter "Importance"

There are those who think it’s not enough to take down civilization, that for wild nature to survive not only this culture but all of humanity must be eradicated. Those who believe this seem at least to me to fall into two very different categories, the first of which I understand but don’t agree with, and the second of which I find intolerable.

The first consists of those people—and there are quite a lot of them—who feel that humans have fucked up so badly that we’ve forfeited the right to live. Looking at factory farms, vivisection labs, factory trawlers, clearcuts, plowed soil, dams, rates of rape, child abuse, inaction in the face of global warming, the irradiation and toxification of the planet, the pesticide industry, my damn neighbor who cuts every tree on his property,then sprays Roundup on every “weed” he sees, Monsanto (corporate creator of Roundup), zoos, off road vehicles (and their callous and arrogant drivers),CIA torture manuals, U.S. bioweapons laboratories, a U.S. government that invades countries left and right in the name of peace and democracy, and the whole sorry history of lies, invasions, conquest, land theft, exploitation, rapine, rape, torture, murder, genocide, and ecocide that characterizes so much of the last many thousand years, it can sometimes be pretty damn easy to forget about all the other cultures eradicated by civilization—cultures where people did not act as we do—and start thinking the world would be a lot better off without humans. The widespread understanding of how bad things have become might help explainhow Margaret Atwood’s not unsympathetic portrayal in Oryx and Crake of someone who creates a virus to destroy all humans became a bestseller and a finalist for the Booker Prize. I’m frankly surprised that no one versed in genetic engineering or biowarfare has pulled an Oryx and Crake or Twelve Monkeys and tried to get rid of us all for the good of nonhumans everywhere. Probably quite a few lab rats, monkeys, beagles, and cats would, if necessary, volunteer to sacrifice themselves for this greater good, to save their brothers and sisters from being tortured and their cousins from being extirpated. I’m surprised also that no bioengineers have yet released pathogens targeting the civilized: if those in power can develop them for use against the “lesser breeds,” you’d think it would be technologically feasible to search for the opposite markers, and take out those people and classes who are doing the damage.

As I said, I don’t conflate civilization and our species, and I don’t agree that the problem is humanity, although I often despair at the slight odds of most of those in this culture remembering how to be human.

The second group consists of those who insist that humans are inherently destructive. This group doesn’t seem so much to believe that humans have committed unforgivable sins—which of course we have, and which of course we all continue to do by not stopping those who are actively committing them—as that humans are, in our very essence, destructive. This seems nothing more than the same old Biblical tradition of Original Sin dressed in modern scientific clothing. I almost never see this attitude among honest-to-goodness activists. I see it all the time among people who pretend to care about the natural world, but want to use this as an excuse for inaction: There’s no use fighting our biology, so there’s no use fighting the destruction. We as a species are just too damn smart for our own good. We’re killing the planet, but so do indigenous peoples. Humanity is just an experiment that failed. It will be sad but interesting to watch our passing, and the passing of the planet. And pass me the remote control, will you? I’m getting bored. I also see this a lot among academics who, like their couch potato counterparts, pretend to care but who are actually apologists for the current way of being.

I have before me an essay published a couple of years ago in the Atlantic Monthly which purports to show that all humans destroy their environment. The article is pretty ludicrous, and makes such extraordinary claims as Indians “shaped the plains into vast buffalo farms” (an especially insane assertion when you consider that prior to the arrival of horse, the population density in the Great Plains states was approximately .001 humans per square mile.) The article asks, “Is it possible that the Indians changed the Americas more than the invading Europeans did?” and answers in the affirmative. The article goes on to call “the Amazon forest itself a cultural artifact—that is, an artificial object,” and says that “the lowland tropical forests of South America are among the finest works of art on the planet.” According to the article, one can consider basically all of the nonflooded Amazon forest “of anthropogenic origin— directly or indirectly created by human beings,” a “built environment.” What hubris. What ignorance. Back in North America, the author, Charles C. Mann, states, “Far from destroying pristine wilderness, European settlers bloodily created it [by killing the Indians who had themselves evidently been messing up the landscape]. By 1800 the hemisphere was chockablock with new wilderness.”

Remember, all writers are propagandists, and remember also that if your writing rationalizes this culture’s insane worldview and destructive activities, no amount of illogic will serve to discredit your commentary: It is not necessary that the lies be particularly believable, but merely that they be erected as barriers to truth, which must at all costs be avoided. Here’s yet another example from Mann. He states that passenger pigeons—which prior to being slaughtered wholesale by the civilized had been unimaginably abundant, with five times as many passenger pigeons as all other species of North American birds combined—were not actually all that common prior to the arrival of Europeans (never mind the first European explorers who described their massive flocks— SHHHHH!). Here’s his logic [sic]. Passenger pigeons were easy to hunt (he even approvingly cites someone calling them “incredibly dumb,” a phrase I would reserve for those who exterminated them and those who rationalize their extermination), which means Indians—because they are humans, and are therefore destructive—must have hunted them heavily enough to reduce their numbers. How do we know the Indians reduced their numbers? Because there aren’t many pigeon bones in pre-Columbian Indian trash heaps, meaning that the Indians must not have hunted them very much.

I kid you not. That is his logic [sic]. Pigeon populations were kept low by Indians who hunted them lots, and the way we know that the populations were low is that we can’t find much evidence that Indians hunted them.

The questions become: Why does Mann lie like this? and Why do so many people accept these lies and illogic? Mann makes clear his reasons. He asks, If “the work of humankind was pervasive, where does that leave efforts to restore nature?” and then answers his own question: “Guided by the pristine myth, mainstream environmentalists want to preserve as much of the world’s land as possible in a putatively intact state. But ‘intact,’ if the new research is correct, means ‘run by human beings for human purposes.’”

Bingo. Mann’s startling “new research” is the same old rationale for exploitation we found in Genesis. Convenient, isn’t it, that the whole world was made to be run by human beings for human purposes?Meet the new God, same as the old God.

He continues, “Environmentalists dislike this, because it seems to mean that anything goes. In a sense they are correct. Native Americans managed the continent as they saw fit. Modern nations must do the same.”

He is, of course, full of shit. But you already knew that. There is a world of difference between indigenous peoples forming long-term relationships with their landbases, and ExxonMobil drilling for gas. It is precisely the difference between the give and take of making love with a much-cherished partner, and rape. I would feel sorry for Mann and those like him were they not raping, torturing, and murdering the planet.

You may have heard of something called the Pleistocene Overkill Hypothesis, although most likely you heard it with the final word missing to lend it more credence, as though it were something more than someone’s almost entirely unsupported idea. The Pleistocene Overkill Hypothesis, discredited as it is, remains the ace in the hole for those who wish to believe all humans are destructive. The hypothesis blew open when Paul S. Martin noticed that many large mammals such as woolly mammoths, dire wolves, saber-toothed cats, giant ground sloths, giant beavers, and so on in North America went extinct about 10,000 years ago. Martin then posited (incorrectly) that this coincided with the arrival of the first humans in North America. Further, he then posited (also incorrectly) that humans hunted these animals to extinction. He punched some numbers into a computer, ran a simulation, and just like that, the computer told him the Indians were ecocidal. If a computer says it, it must be true.

Once, when I was sharing the stage with an American Indian, someone in the audience brought up this exact point: “You were just as destructive as we are,” he said.

The Indian responded, “Then why were there buffalo here when your people arrived?”

“Your people were in the process of killing them off, too.”

“We must have been awful slow, because there were between thirty and sixty million of them left.” He paused, then said, “You know, it’s always the same with those who are destroying life. First you ignore the damage entirely. We can kill all the bison we want, you say, and it doesn’t matter. We can kill all the passenger pigeons we want, and it doesn’t matter. When it doesn’t work to ignore the damage, then you deny it’s happening. The herds are just as big as they were last year, you say. It’s harder to hunt them, but the herds must be just as big. When it doesn’t work to deny that the damage is happening, then you attack those who try to tell you about it. You attack their reputations: Oh, they’re just Indians, they aren’t scientific, they don’t know anything about population dynamics. They’re just environmentalists, they’re too emotional, and you know they’ll lie to protect some piece of ground. When it doesn’t work to attack the messenger, you pretend the damage isn’t really damage. Who needs bison anyway? And what does it matter if there are a few chemicals in every stream. You already have chemicals in your body, and they haven’t killed you yet, have they? Global warming is good, isn’t it? When it doesn’t work to pretend the damage isn’t damage, then you try to blame someone else. The Indians, not the whites, were the ones who overhunted the bison and killed them off. When it doesn’t work to blame someone else, and you finally have to acknowledge that you are the one who did this damage, then you say that someone made you do it. You wouldn’t have killed the bison except the Indians wouldn’t give you their land, so you had to starve them off. If they wouldn’t have fought to keep their land, you wouldn’t have had to kill the bison. It’s the Indians’ fault. And when it doesn’t work to blame your destructiveness on someone else, then the last resort is for you to say that everyone does it, so you cannot be held accountable. Indians destroyed their habitat, too, you say, so it must be natural for us to do it. It’s all crazy. No matter what we say, you’ve got an answer for it, and no matter what we say, you keep on destroying our home.”