Tag Archives: biophilia

For the Love of Earth

In which we experiment with thought in the genre of science fiction…

“The essence of art, no less than of science, is synecdoche.  A carefully chosen part serves for the whole.”
-Edward O. Wilson, Biophilia

Imagine a world, a best possible world in all possible worlds, which is quite unlike Leibniz’s (or Voltaire’s “Dr. Pangloss”).  It looks and behaves similarly to what it is like now except that humans are slightly different.  They are all biophiles at their core.  This loving ethic for biological inter-relatedness has evolved over thousands of years, and is now as instinctual as the aversion to falling and the desire to reproduce.

In this globalized society, each of its members, from very early on, is obligated to care for and protect a particular species: plant, animal, bacteria, or whatever needs extra attention and study.  No one person begrudges this obligation because it is an encoded outcome of being human.  In other words, it’s just the way we live.

Because this is just the way we are, and because we also have excellent organizational capacity, each member begins with a species to protect and goes through a series of graduations or rites-of-passage so that they might be involved in the protection of more particular species over time.  Maybe a father has his species for a given time, and once it is well-situated, he can give it to his son while facilitating an apprenticeship.

This father might then take on a more challenging species while he aids the continued study and protection of the one bequeathed to his apprentice who has begun with a less threatened species as an elementary lesson in care and protection.  We are thinking of Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development:  a child is seen to need some learning just a bit past his development level to strive toward.  So does, we’ll suppose, the adult.  By the time a person reaches, say, sixty, they might have had five or six species they were “in charge of” and have helped thrive in harmony with other organisms.

Now, obviously, there are at least two ways to care for a species: in a lab such as a zoo, or in its natural habitat.  Obviously, in this best possible world, we disparage the former, except in extreme circumstances of species decline, and do everything we can to ensure the latter, knowing a species must live in its best possible world also.

This is why we have organizational bodies called “governments.”  They run the logistics of necessaries like providing transportation to other comparable habitats where a species lives.  They facilitate the best possible education of our novices and experts so they may know as much as they can in order to help each particular organism being protected.  These governmental people are made up of the privileged and powerful class.

This  elite class of people is determined by results.  A leader of this sort has protected seriously endangered species in Nobel prize worthy ways, utilizing both ingenuity and superior knowledge, and has been rewarded with a high office, thus more responsibility.  These people fully expect to be surpassed in rank, and do what they must to make sure this happens.  They understand that they will need to be replaced, eventually.  That is just the way we live.

And, naturally, saving a species or six in a lifetime, involves greater things.  One important feature we have already mentioned: the habitats where a species lives.  The people assigned to this habitat will eventually be teaming up with others assigned other species which coexist with theirs.  Understanding the ecosystem also involves non-living elements, like the elements.  People working together on a particular habitat begin to see the necessity of really working hard together.  They assist where they can and are unable to take full, individualized  credit for their results.  They depend both on their species, other peoples’ species, and the help of other protectors to get the job done.

Meanwhile, back at home, the child and the father enjoy their time away from this work.  They, and their neighbors, have plenty to eat, are in good health, use free time to create and develop other interests, and they aren’t even worried about the rest of humanity.  They know each is doing his or her small part to socially protect the biospherical whole that keeps us alive.

By Carrie Anne Ebner

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The 2nd Amendment and 28 Squirrels

In which Carrie uses writing therapy to confront her feelings of isolation and disrespect…

“Franklin was angry and took five or six of them in his mouth, crushing them, tossing them one after the other.  The other dogs watched; none knew if squirrel-killing made them happy or not.”
-Dave Eggers, “After I was Thrown in the River and Before I Drowned”

The Pole Creek fire in central Oregon rages on, but the last statistic I heard was that it is 45% contained.  If you took a pizza and cut it in half, almost, this would represent the statistic, visually. A fire is not a circle, geometrically.  Reports say that there was a lot of standing dead trees and downed woody debris up there.  It was inevitable that a fire would come through eventually.

I don’t think of pizzas when I think of thousands of acres of wilderness.  I think of populations.  I consider the devastating effects of the fire on living things, and the habitats which took millennia to build up…all gone in flames.  I allow for the idea of the benefits of fire for certain trees which need them to let loose their seeds and the billions of insects attracted to charred wood which then bring in certain birds, etc.  I indulge in my imagination the fact that death breeds life, and that the biosphere is a complicated system I can only, with my insufficient human mind, speculate upon and admire like a work of art.  A beautiful object with which I am in love.  This is my visceral rendition of Edward. O. Wilson’s coinage of the term “biophilia.”

I am more than acquainted with people who practice the right to bear arms for protection of the home and/or for hunting.  I’m comfortable with the people who go out in certain seasons to hunt duck, bear, elk, others, but am hurt when some people kill things, like squirrels, on the property.  The hunting stories of those who go out into the wilderness to seek and kill what they will eventually eat is life-affirming to me.  I can relate to their adventure and see some form of a respect of life. What I can’t understand, or appreciate, is the joyful killing of animals which will later be buried on the property (to prevent the attraction of other species to the carcass).  What hurts worse is heroic narratives of such slaughters, and an ignorance to what unintended consequences may occur when one or twenty-eight of these squirrels are destroyed for no other reason except annoyance at their presence on the five acres.

I do not express myself fully as the environmentalist which I am.  I believe I have heard enough verbal pot-shots taken on environmentalists to associate freely with this kind of person.  Pressure on the side of belonging to a group can sabotage inner truths which repel people with certain biases.  So it is, with careful skepticism, I subject the pain I feel when an animal is killed unnecessarily to the other side of the environmentalist project.  I  have observed bird population changes, for example, on the property I speak of. Could this be because the Western gray squirrel population has become more “stabilized” and has since provided more habitat for other species?  When I criticize man’s hand in everything, can I also see the positive unintended consequences in this case?  What do those who disrespect people like me see when they take some action which goes against something which I am against?

These people I speak of (unnamed because they are so wonderful in ways not shown here) have not experienced what I have.  They cannot understand the sharpness of my sensitivity on matters of destroying even a small part of the life system.  Nor can they “get” that their pleasure at the sport is my extreme pain, which I conceive as all of ours in the long run.  They probably aren’t even aware of the disrespect they exhibit against the environmentalist, whose attentive understanding of the necessity of healthy ecosystems as prolonging our cherished human species, hurts more  than my personal sentiment.  I won’t profess wisdom on matters concerning the bigger picture, but call on those who honor human life to take a look at it and ask what would it be like to know they contributed to the death of our species with these small actions of destruction, if they knew how ignorantly they behaved even while advertising its joy.

When my travelling companions and I walked off of the Druk Path in the Himalayas and into the capital city of Thimphu, a hotel with showers and beds were a new luxury after five days on the trail.  I still recall an interesting inference I made once…maybe ignorantly…associated with my perception of the Bhutanese regard for life.

A hotel clerk called up to my room and asked me to please shut my balcony door…so I wouldn’t let the flies inside.  “Excuse me?” I asked, puzzling over the oddity of this request marked with a small tone of customer service weariness.

“Please shut your door so you don’t let the flies in.”

I said, okay and did as I was told.  I was in a foreign country and wanted to be a respectful guest.  It occurred later to me, after I examined further the strangeness of this minor detail to hotel operations, that in a country where Buddhism is the norm and the sacristy of life is maintained though vegetarian habits, that maybe they didn’t want to have to kill the flies later.  The ones I let in might bother future guests and would have to be destroyed to make them happy or add to their comfort.  I can see how this could be a dilemma for a Bhutanese person if he or she believes in either reincarnation or simply honors the contribution of all living beings as part of a whole life system.

The smoke here bothers me.  I’ve had headaches and dehydration and some nausea in the last few days.  The fire is the talk of the town as we all process its consequences  in our collaborative and individual ways.  I know it will be controlled 100% eventually and slowly a new forest will form…with the help of birds dropping seeds and insects drawing in woodpeckers and mycelium invading carbon sources of food.

“Do you love any, do you love none, do you love many, can you love one, do you love me?
Do you love any, do you love none, do you love twenty, can you love one, do you love me?”
-Suzanne Vega, “Knight Moves”

Photo credits:

Jon Renner for the Pole Creek Fire photo taken from the deck of his home.

Himalayas and Mule taken by travelling companion Julie when we went there together as a group in 2005.