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Excerpt from What We Leave Behind

Ed Schultz (p. 163)

From chapter "Morality"

Ed Schultz is just as bad. He is what many call a “biostitute”: a biologist who lies to serve the financial interests of those who pay him. Biostitute is not a term I generally use, in part because I don’t think it’s apt, and in part because it demeans prostitutes. This means I had to come up with a new word. First I tried biopimp since that’s pretty accurate to what they do. Bio means life, and they turn life—the sacred—into commodities and force individuals—nonhumans, in this case—into servitude for money. They pimp life. So biopimp works, but it’s not quite specific enough. They also pimp their knowledge, the ology part of biology, so maybe they should be called pimpologist. But that wouldn’t be specific enough, either, because pimpologists would include geologists who pimp the natural world to mining corporations and climatologists who work for oil companies. Then the answer came to me: biopimpologist. It covers both of those bases, and as a bonus it sounds silly, which is what this whole bloody business would be if it weren’t so deadly.

I mentioned Schultz’s name to another biologist, who responded, “I can’t understand how he sleeps at night. He causes so much damage. Why would he become a biologist if he didn’t love animals? And if he loves animals, how can he hurt them so much with his lies?” Silence, then, “I also can’t understand how he gets away with it. I’ve talked to so many biologists who hate this guy’s guts. We all know he’s lying, and he even sometimes gets called on it, but the projects he supports still always seem to go through: no matter how many times we show his statements to be lies, he somehow never loses credibility with decision-makers.” I asked a local official about Schultz, and he responded a bit more crudely: “That motherf***er lies every time he opens his mouth. And he gets himself appointed to every possible committee, where he does incalculable harm. If there were any way I could get that liar off those committees or at least lessen his harm, I would do it.”

Now, pretend for a moment you are Ed Schultz. I hope that is not too painful, and I hope that you have access to a shower afterwards, to clean off the slime. Pretend at one point you did care about animals, about plants, about the wild. That’s why you went into biology. Pretend that when you finished your degree and entered “the real world”—the “world” that is more important to most people in this culture than the real real world— you found that your best chance to make some decent money was to work for a resource-extraction corporation, doing surveys for wildlife in areas where this corporation was going to log or mine. Pretend that you soon found yourself being subtly and not-so-subtly rewarded for not finding plants or animals who would impede resource-extraction, and subtly and not-so-subtly penalized for finding them. It might be a shared look between you and an older biologist when you see an endangered salamander, a look that somehow lets you know that neither of you are to report this sighting. It might be that you see who gets promoted and who does not. It might be that you see who gets “let go” and who does not. You find yourself in a social setting where resource-extraction is rewarded, and the failure to extract resources is not. So it’s no wonder that you do what is rewarded.

Sometimes you think about the love you used to have for wild creatures. You still love them, of course, and would do whatever is appropriate to protect them, but more and more you’re growing to realize that environmental regulations are far too restrictive, and that those damn selfish environmentalists have already locked up too much wilderness and that something has to be left for the men and women who work for these corporations: they’ve got to make a living; they’ve got to support their families. More and more you realize that our entire way of life is based on resource extraction, and would collapse without it: as the bumper sticker says, “If it’s not grown, it has to be mined.” How do those fucking environmentalists expect for people to live? More and more you grow disgusted at the stupidity of those so-called environmentalists who wouldn’t know a redwood from a cascara. Don’t they realize that trees grow like weeds? Hell, don’t they realize that trees are weeds? What’s the difference between a redwood and a dandelion, except that you can sell a redwood for a hell of a lot more money. And don’t they realize that if left to itself, a forest will just grow overmature and decadent? Don’t they realize that a managed forest is a healthy forest? And more and more you come to understand the wisdom of survival of the fittest: if some creature can’t survive a little logging here and there, then there really is something wrong with that creature. It’s sad, but true. You cannot stop progress. Besides, extinction is natural: all creatures eventually go extinct. So those environmentalists who say they want to protect these creatures really do hate nature: they hate extinction, which is natural, which means they must hate nature. Sometimes you can’t believe how stupid some people are.

Pretend that is your life.

Now, pretend that you decide to follow the American dream. You want to run your own business. You want to help your community. You see a need for a biologist whom people can hire to survey properties before putting in subdivisions, or before logging, or before putting in big-box stores. You start your own business. It doesn’t take you long to realize that you’re far more likely to receive referrals for more work when you tell the landowner what the landowner wants to hear. The landowner wants for there to be no wetlands on his property? Fine, there are no wetlands. The landowner wants for there to be no endangered species? Fine, there are no endangered species.

Sometimes you look back on your younger self, and you’re amazed and somewhat embarrassed at how naïve you were.

Besides, your son needs a new car, and your daughter is getting married this fall. And you have that second mortgage you have to pay off. Oh, and there’s the big screen HDTV, and the hot tub, and that trip to Cancun next January.

Pretend that is your life.

Or maybe we’ve got it all wrong. Maybe you—as Schultz—never cared about wildlife at all. Oh, sure, you convinced yourself you did, and you actually believed you did (and still believe you do) but your love of wildlife is the same as the love of those foresters who say they love the forest as they destroy it, the same as the love of those pornographers who say they love women as they exploit them, the same as the love of so many in this culture who do not know how to love, who do not know the difference between love and exploitation, and who have been able to talk themselves into believing that a desire to control and exploit is what love is. So pretend you can tell yourself that you love the wild as you systematically destroy it.

Or maybe we’ve still got it all wrong. Maybe we’re making this way more complicated than it really is. Maybe you—as Schultz—never even pretended to love wildlife. Maybe you chose biology as a career path, nothing more and nothing less. You like walking around outside, and math was never your strong suit, so biology seemed a better idea than accounting. And maybe the reason you lie about the presence of wetlands or endangered species is not because you’re jaded, not because you had your love worn away, and not even because you believe the false sense of love that has been handed to you by this culture, but rather because you don’t give a shit about anything but money. Maybe you have no functioning internal morality. Maybe you’re just greedy, and that’s really all there is to it.

Or maybe it’s all even simpler than this. Maybe, and this is something that those of us who care about life on this planet must learn, and soon: Schultz’s motivations and history don’t matter nearly so much as his actions. His motivations ultimately don’t matter any more than, say, Albert Speer’s, Adolf Eichmann’s, J. Robert Oppenheimer’s, or those of any other technician of atrocities.