No Animal is Meant to Live the Way We Have Lived for the Last Ten Thousand Years

Photo credits, clockwise from upper left:  1. China pollution — Damir Sagoli for Reuters; 2. Trump stormtroopers in Portland — Noah Berger for AP: 3. Garbage-pickers in Lagos — Samantha Appleton, in The New Yorker;  4. Refugees in Greece — Daniel Etter/New York Times/Redux /eyevine:  5. Child labourers in Pennsylvania — Lewis Hine in the National Archives


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9 Responses to No Animal is Meant to Live the Way We Have Lived for the Last Ten Thousand Years

  1. Paul Heft says:


  2. B says:

    Well, the human experiment is running it’s due course of rise and fall in endless circles. This current cycle is bigger, higher and more destructive than any of its predecessors was, or its following ones will ever be — thanks to the one time bonanza of fossil fuels. Nevertheless, it will come to its conclusion. Strangely though the pace of change is slow enough for the majority to dismiss it as ‘just another bad day for someone else’ – I wonder when, if ever collapse will accelerate to a point where it becomes dead obvious, or will it follow this pattern of random events here and there till the world becomes unrecognizable place.

  3. Dave Pollard says:

    Excellent! That was your final exam question. You both passed!

  4. Jason Johnston says:

    I don’t know if there is a “meant to”? I have a suspicion that our enlarged prefrontal cortex is an evolutionary adaptation that is not going to pan out. It was worth a shot but nope. I’ve also always been drawn to Terrance McKenna’s idea that humans may have been placed on the Earth to help Gaia get biology off the planet and that this juncture in our evolution is a crucial step – the exploitation of fossil fuels, splitting the atom, the internet and so forth are “tests”. If we pass (with the help of the mushroom Terrance would like to think) then we can go on to succeed in our purpose or we snuff ourselves out of existence or perhaps we simply revert back to a more indigenous way of being in much lower numbers and start all over again in our quest. We still have 5 billion years or so before our sun burns out so we have a goodly amount of time to keep trying.

  5. Paul Reid-Bowen says:

    Well, “meant to” implies design, rather than evolutionary experimentation. If we are “meant to” by design then one can spin out all kinds of theological and teleological speculation to various fun and perverse effects. However, assuming evolutionary experimentation, there is probably little more to say than that we lived in relative ecological balance for most of our natural history before our technical capacities started to gain traction and pay dividends (or, more specifically, become dysfunctional), at which point we became the ultimate invasive species and/or entered a state where our closest biological-animal parallels are parasites or plague species.

    As to whether parasites and plague species are ecologically bad news and “ought” to live the way they do, that’s a little trickier to answer. But the human experience of being a parasite or plague species is frequently pretty miserable. It’s often, although not always, painful to live within the expansive consumptive, extractive and weaponized system of human civilization. Moreover we have the added existential torture of occasionally glancing around to see the devastating effects of the human swarm, like a locust perceiving the effects of his billions of swarm-brethren, on the biosphere. Fortunately, we have plenty of psychological, cognitive and cultural blinkers to get us back on task of working through our plague/parasite experiment to its conclusion … nom nom nom.

  6. TA says:

    Unfortunately we don’t consider ourselves “animals”. Hence the judgement of “less than” or “more than” prevails.

  7. Philip says:

    its not all bad, we sit here reflecting upon our self destruction with fancy machines and full stomachs- for now.
    “That human life must be some kind of mistake is sufficiently proved by the simple observation that man is a compound of needs which are hard to satisfy; that their satisfaction achieves nothing but a painless condition in which he is only given over to boredom; and that boredom is a direct proof that existence is in itself valueless, for boredom is nothing other than the sensation of the emptiness of existence.” -Schopenhauer

  8. Dave Pollard says:

    I think Schopenhauer got it half right. The mistake wasn’t/isn’t the evolution of humanity per se, but the evolution of the illusion of self and separation — nature’s bold experiment that underlies all of our apparent needs, unhappiness and boredom. The results of the experiment are similar to the results of the evolution of cancers, and mosquitos — a terrible misfit with the rest of evolved life. Fortunately the experiment is almost over.

    The species itself isn’t so bad as evolution goes — a little ugly, perhaps, due to the lack of naturally styled hair, and well adapted only for life in the trees of tropical rainforests (poorly developed claws and fangs, not very fast on our feet, and the five senses not as well developed as they might ideally be), but prior to the experiment, it fit pretty well into its narrow ecological niche for a million years. There might still be a place for it.

    And while the final exam question was/is open to any interpretation, I think interpreting the word ‘meant’ as ‘evolutionarily developed’ is as good a basis as any to consider the question, and less fraught than interpreting it to mean ‘divinely intended’.

  9. Philip says:

    Without ego we would not have the feeling of a separate self, without this nagging sense of lack humans would not have converted much of the surface of Gaia into their wants and become the dominant life form on the planet. The fall, the original sin, tempted by the fruit from the tree of knowledge- it was a cultural evolutionary mistake (a mutation of mind in the taker tribe), before that humans were hanging out in the garden of Eden. It was meant to be like this for this particular animal for the last 10,000 years because that’s the way it has been. We can sit here and see it so we can only really accept it. Arthur was a bit rough to paint us all with the same brush but its easy to generalize when you don’t go more than ten millennia back.

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