Humans vs. Everyone Else

Have you ever thought about your relationship to animals? I’m not talking about how close you are to your beloved dog or cat, but about the place of all wildlife in your worldview. How important are they in the big picture of life on Earth? Do you consider humans part of the animal population, or separate and superior?

Bison grazing at YellowstoneI think about these things a lot. The idea that we are better than all other creatures has always bothered me. Mankind has a very big ego. And because of that, we’ve used  our language ability (and skills stemming from it) to take control of all other species on this marvelous planet. We keep some of them in cages for our amusement. We shoot some of them and hang their beautiful heads on our walls as trophies. Even the ones we allow to run free are “managed” so they don’t inconvenience us too much. We keep millions of them in horrifying conditions in barns so we can eat their flesh cheaply. But what gives us the right to do that? I argue that we don’t have any such right.

Before I go further, I need to say that I do have pets, I do eat meat (but try to minimize it), and I do wear clothing made from leather and wool.  Life is complicated. But I just want to make clear that I’m not trying to make the claim that I’m morally superior to anyone else. My life is full of hypocrisy, just as yours might be. But that doesn’t stop me from wanting to explore the idea that humans — as a species — need to rethink many of the ways in which we relate to other animals.

Henry Beston wrote something in his classic “The Outermost House” (1926) that really rang true to me:

We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. …. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth.

Yes, “other nations.”  That’s exactly how I think of our place in the world now, as fellow citizens with all the other life forms. In terms of planetary health, we’re no more important than they are. In fact, we’ve caused more destruction to this planet than all the other life forms combined.

Yellow flower and sky - square crop

I’ve had occasional fantasies about what this planet would be like if all traces of the human race disappeared. Wouldn’t it be lush and beautiful? All the animals would live in relative peace (except for predators who need to eat others to survive, of course). But nobody would be shooting rockets at their neighbors. There would be no air pollution, no water pollution, no noise pollution. No buildings of concrete and steel. No dams on the rivers. It’s almost too perfect to imagine.

But we’re here and we’re not going anywhere. I just wish we’d behave like the “superior” beings we claim to be, and show more stewardship for the amazing planet that gives us all life, and more respect for the other species who share it with us.

As I step down off my soapbox, I’ll leave you with some wise words from Cleveland Amory in his book “Mankind?“:

Bull giraffes can smash a skull of a lion with one blow of their forefeet. When they fight with other giraffes, however, they use only their forehorns, which are covered by a padding of thick skin. Rattlesnakes, fighting with each other, do not use their venom. They do not even bite; instead they settle their contests seemingly on points. As for skunks, they too squirt their secretions only at other predators — not at other skunks.

Now take man, and all his marvelous weaponry. Perhaps some day, when he has finally renounced biological and nuclear warfare and, for that matter, thrown away his guns, then it will be time to compare him with his betters. Then at last one may be able to say that he has the brains of a giraffe, the sense of a rattlesnake, and the decency of a skunk.

Who's wiser, us or them?

Who’s wiser, us or them?

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5 Responses to Humans vs. Everyone Else

  1. Littlesundog says:

    I have learned a lot about being a good steward of the land since moving on this 10 acres. I have also observed how wildlife depends on a balance of the entire ecosystem. Just being cognizant of making better choices is a start… but we must move forth being proactive now.

  2. 68ghia says:

    Humans are, according to me, the only being on earth not part of any ecosystem.
    Every single antelope, bird, bacteria, insect, carnivore, has a role to play. They all work in conjunction with one another to keep Nature going.
    Humans run roughshod over everything. And we populate more aggressively than even a virus. Agent Smith described us perfectly in The Matrix. We are a virus. We kill everything in our path and move along to the next empty space.
    I am only another human, one with not all the resources available to minimise my footprint on earth, but I do my small bit to try and make things slightly better for the creatures that was here before me…

    • Kim says:

      Not too long ago I read something that characterized humans as a “destroyer species”, and that seems exactly right to me. It’s really very depressing if you think about it too much. Thanks for reading.

  3. This is tough. I agree and I disagree. Every species of plant and animal changes the environment, it isn’t only man. If it wasn’t for cyanobacteria (commonly known as blue-green algae), there’d be little or no oxygen on Earth for the wildlife we know to exist. With the increased levels of oxygen, many other lifeforms present before, went extinct.

    Beavers can and do destroy small trout streams as far as the trout are concerned.

    Plant eating animals change the environment by changing the biodiversity of the plant life.
    Nature does come to a balance when man is not present, in a way. Within that balance, the numbers of an individual species ebbs and flows as they consume the food available to them.

    Of course man has done far more damage to the environment than most animals have, but man is part of the environment for better or worse, and my opinion is that we should all do everything that we can to make it for the better.

    • Kim says:

      Yes, that’s what I was hoping to convey — how much mankind has upset the “balance” of nature. I’m reminded of the saying (I think it originated in the Bible, and I’m paraphrasing here) “To whom much is given, much is expected.” Humans have been given much power by virtue of our advanced brains, and I believe that in itself mandates that we use that power to benefit the entire ecosystem, the so-called “lesser” life forms.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on this. I wasn’t sure how it would be received.

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