By Haralambie Athes
Using the word “strange” to describe the contemporary world is already overrated. Supposedly, we all live in a cultural environment where anyone is allowed to speak his/ her mind, has the right to protect property and individual freedom, and, above all, has the right to a future. And not only a future for him/her, but for the next generations. This is what nowadays is called “sustainable development”, and it is a highly praised concept in almost all fields of environmental research, as well as in the business area. Yet, one minor detail seems to have been lost along the way. The vast majority of the human population is too inept to think for themselves, let alone acting. Drowned in the everyday media propaganda, millions of individuals undergo the same routine existence every single hour, every single week, summing up a sad way of “fulfilling a destiny”.
Celebrating a meaningless way of life, based on consumerism and endless (and usually hopeless) attempts to rise up to the demands of society, lost in a sea of clichés and mottos, they try so hard to build a future that they forget an essential aspect of the whole matter: their inability to get out of their petty space-time-money continuum (meaningless movements meant to carry them “from rags to riches”, to adequately fit into the perversely designed image of success described by contemporary propaganda). What people ultimately forget is this whole “theater” of becoming someone and climbing up the ladder of social (read financial) success has one basic need, beyond all human-constructed rules, needs and strategies: it needs a stage.
As unbelievable as it would seem based on the humanist and anthropocentric views which coordinate people’s existence, we still need a proper place to make whatever dreams come true, a spacious environment for being able to pursue our ideals. Shockingly, the human heaven still needs the earthly ground, even though this basic fact is overviewed on a daily basis by obtuse, simple-minded, TV-addicted crowds, who seemingly have one primary goal, one final purpose: to consume as much as possible. In fact, the whole contemporary economic culture is based on a media-induced need to consume as much as possible, regardless of what we are leaving behind. That is, billions of tons of garbage, and a natural environment that starts to look like a wasteland.
While making every effort to make sure their children will have a “good life” (the degree to which life is good being calculated with a rather simplistic formula, generally involving money and nothing else), they actually deny their children and their grand-children the simple right of living a decent life, in a functional natural environmental. The arrogant detachment from nature has led to an ever-broadening disaster all across the planet, and things are changing for the worse with each passing second. Our relationship to the natural world (including animals) has never been so twisted, and its effects will soon become too potent to be mended by our highly praised science.
Until now, the greatest and best advertised result of science has been technology, which only widened the gap between man and nature – the former resting on the laurels of the new-found power over the environment, and the latter suffering unprecedented damage. The universalization of the indifferent attitude towards all natural elements is in sharp contrast with the alleged “high moral standards” which should conduct human behavior at all levels of the contemporary complex existence. Do these moral standards also apply to transforming forests into deserts, even while knowing (thanks to the same dearly beloved science) that this will endanger our future as a species? Do they apply to polluting our environment beyond any possibility of reconstruction? Do they take into account the suffering of animals, used as mere property? Could these moral standards find an apology or at least a logical explanation for non-human creatures being tortured in science laboratories, or enslaved in countless ways, for “entertainment purposes”?
Unfortunately, the answer to these questions is all too obvious, and it bears no connection whatsoever to any ethical standards. But if there is one law that science has discovered that has a proven functionality, it is the law of equilibrium. Everything tends to attain a state of perfect balance, when long-lasting stability is achieved. Of course, in achieving this, a whole dynamic of change is at play, exhibiting violent movements to restore the lost equilibrium; for every action, there is an equally powerful reaction. If we believe that science is the only true narrative, the most potent weapon we have in the self-ignited war against nature, why don’t we believe that its laws apply universally? For some reason, we believe that we are somewhere outside the reach of the laws our science discovered. That the wrongs we do will not have any effect on ourselves. That all the violence used against animals and the natural environment will not take its toll on us. That somehow we will not have to pay the price of our selfish way of living.
Humanity’s myths of power and control, forcefully put into practice through the increasingly extensive use of technology, are to be confronted with their morbid effects on everything (including ourselves, as individuals). For as long as we do not stand up for the right to live in a clean world, in a non-intrusive society and in a violence free community, nothing will ever change. We have learned one lesson very well, a lesson that is highly valuable in a culture which values power and money above anything else: not to contradict the mainstream, not to argue with the institutions of control, which are instrumental for our “happiness” and “fulfillment” in all the definitions acknowledged by society. The ones who do not conform to the rules of the majority are automatically labeled as extremists, radicals, or they are simply ignored by the system through its effective strategies of rejection. This practice of always adhering to the generally accepted patterns of behavior, without analyzing them or filtering them through one’s own consciousness is reiterated over and over again, every single day.
Guilty for encouraging the indifferent attitude towards the real world around is not only the system itself (even though it is occasionally blamed by suddenly awakened individuals, crying out their agoraphobic despair and the futility of their attempts to earn their share of the culturally accepted success). People are deeply complicit. It is a mass process only because the chain is rarely questioned and never interrupted.
The business man who earns money from leveling a forest to build a hotel bears guilt, as does the father who takes his son for a “fun evening” at the circus to see elephants perform tricks and monkeys juggle colorful balls. The attitude is the same: indifference in its cruelest form. Whether it is destruction of the natural environment (which ultimately feeds the business man himself) or the suffering of the animals brutally forced to amuse the cold-hearted crowds, the damage done to the natural world and the cruelty against animals are tightly bound together. They both stem from the same ignorant philosophies that have been governing human behavior for centuries. In fact, man has always tried to find justification for his existence and for his deeds. And technology eventually became the “proof” that we are unique and possess every right to do whatever we please.
Henry Bergson argued that intelligence is connected to inference, and the latter is the beginning of invention. When a human manages to fabricate an object, that individual has attained the perfection of animal intelligence. According to Bergson and many others, the entire social existence of humanity gravitates around the invention of objects, around the utilization of artificial instruments. These inventions not only change the inter-human relationships, but shape the entire history of mankind. It is easily noticeable that nature has not found its place in this complex equation comprising only humans and their inventions.
It seems that the real dream of humanity is to attain such a high degree of technological advancement that we no longer need nature. The ultimate ideal of humankind is to live outside its natural environment, to create a new, artificial one, which could perfectly fit his needs without ever “fighting back”. The “right” to ignore nature is divinely granted to humanity. As Pico della Mirandola argued, only man has the freedom to decide his own “nature”, his own existence, according to his will. In contrast, real nature is forced to live inside the laws prescribed by the Creator/ God. Then again, people are the ones who “speak God’s word” (whether it be Christian, Islamic, Hindu, or some other), so there is that “slight chance” that the message could be twisted. To push things one step further, Nietzsche went well beyond the usual down-sized image of Nature and well beyond sheer indifference and justifying destruction using the superiority of Man given by God. Not only did he ignore Nature’s capacity to organize itself functionally, in a gratuitous act of hyperbolizing human self-esteem, he advised us not to grant Nature anthropomorphic features, not to believe that there are laws in nature. The natural is all about necessities. There is no final goal, so it has no chance. Just like the whole Universe, the natural world is to be thought of as something devoid of inner meaning, of any kind of positive evolution. These patterns of thought – only to mention a couple from thousands of different variations and degrees – have led to the present world image, substantially affected by contemporary media culture and capitalist “ideals.”
The definition of man as the only creature on Earth gifted with the ability to think and to reason seems outdated when taking into account the current modes of consumption, the globally spread violence and the psychological profile of contemporary culture that strongly resembles the worst nightmare of science-fiction writers. We claim the right to live in an orderly world, yet economic, political and environmental chaos rule every aspect of our lives. As there is no room for nature in the technotopia we are striving for, the lack of resources will be felt acutely during the next few decades. Knowing about it and doing nothing will take its toll on a humanity too busy building its future to pay any attention to the “details” which will eventually stop its evolution.
Contradiction marks every aspect of today’s thinking, from economy to morality and culture. All of them are obstructed by the only truly universal philosophy man has ever accurately applied: anthropocentrism. In a world where nature is systematically destroyed for the profit of a handful and the process is applauded by senseless, manipulated crowds, environmentalists are viewed as extremists. Even though we humans condemn killing as being morally wrong, wars are constantly raging for power, money and ego. The Constitution guarantees the right to live, but this only extends to the limits of our own species. Man, “the most noble of all creatures”, is not yet prepared to radically change. Change is impossible while marching along the same path of “humanism” and “rationality” – coded names for anthropocentrism and rampant consumerism. We are free to choose, yet we fail to acknowledge the true complexity of our choices, the real effects of our actions or inaction.
Eric Hoffer said that “when people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate each other”. This does hold true, perhaps now more than ever, but with a twist: the patterns of imitation are channeled by artificially- induced “ideals” and distorted visions of human values. Written laws are not better than moral codes; while freedom of speech is granted to anyone, true freedom of thought is denied if you do not adhere to the institutionalized consensus. If anyone speaks out his mind against the majority, this is where freedom ends and abuse begins.
One poignant example comes to mind – though it is only a minuscule aspect of the entire picture of so-called “individual freedom”. While it has been widely accepted that the planetary fauna is in permanent danger, with countless species facing extinction, hunting is not only allowed; it is legally protected. Everyone rich enough to buy a gun and heartless enough to shoot an animal for pleasure has the lawful right to kill. This obscene business leads to scenes of unimaginable cruelty, yet it continues because it is a reiteration of man’s power over all that is natural. What greater honor for a “true man” than to kill a lion from the safe distance of his truck, protected by so many devices that even a 5-year-old could do the job without any risk of getting hurt? The suffering of the animal, the terror which marks its last moments, or the agony of being just injured and left to die a horrible death – they all mean nothing when the trophy is hung above the fire place, for all the friends to see.
If our laws are right, one also has the right to care about wildlife and has the right (if not the duty) to protect it. But if anyone interferes with a hunt, this is called “extremism”, even “terrorism”. Saving an animal is wrong – and punished accordingly – while killing an animal is legally right. If defense is bad and killing is good – couldn’t it be that the laws themselves are twisted? While many people are decent enough to recognize that inflicting suffering on an animal is morally wrong, most simply change the channel or look away when they see a murderous act against an animal, stating that is too brutal, too disturbing to watch. But this politics of ignorance is just what enables the perpetuation of exploitative, barbaric acts against animals.
Violence against animals, along with the legalized destruction of nature in general, are so deeply embedded in our history that in some areas they are considered to be a part of a country’s cultural heritage, a major element of its tradition. And the word “tradition” suddenly makes it right, no matter how morally repugnant something might be. Cruelty against animals reaches much further than mere meat consumption and it attains an almost privileged state when it is simply done for pleasure. Take the example of bull-fighting in Spain, where huge crowds gather to see a frightened animal being tortured to death, while men and women alike cheer and encourage the bull-“fighters” to show off their whole range of “courageous” movements. Cock fighting and bloody matches between dogs are in the same category of murderous amusement. The suffering of circus animals may not be so obvious, but it has been thoroughly demonstrated and documented. Still, it is considered a form of entertainment for adults and children alike.
If a child grows up seeing these atrocities and becomes accustomed to “normalized” violence, it will seem “natural” to them when they become adults. And the adult won’t manifest any mercy when put in the situation to decide what is right or wrong with respect to animals or the environment. Education may be the most effective weapon against environmental destruction and cruelty toward animals, but if a solid and adequate educational program was implemented now, it could still be too late. Destruction and violence seem to advance at a faster rate than their counter-movements.
A globally spread awakening, a moral cleansing of humankind, and a departure from our present ways of thinking could provide the adequate solution for saving our future. If everyone actually exercised their true freedom of speech and thought and then consistently acted according to their documented beliefs, we would not be living on a planet turning into a wasteland and our consciences would not have to bear the guilt for the global slaughterhouse of nature we have erected. Stained with greed, our decaying consciousness still can – or at least should – redefine our self-imposed status of “superior beings” in accordance with new and sound concepts vis-à-vis morality, freedom, life and future. Because we will only have a future if we learn to make the right choices about the present.
And our disturbing present is the frail future that the generations before us built. If the same “evolutionary” trend continues and the insane exploitation goes on unabated, “future” will become a word devoid of meaning in the dictionary of indifference. Freedom to choose should be used. Or at least created. Before the apathy becomes universal.