we don't need to change how we do conservation, we need to change why we do it

Young Buddha at Home, Part-2: Three ‘Natural Truths’ that Horrify!

A short selection from Essay Twenty-One in Darwin, Dogen, and the Extremophile Choice.

—like one that on a lonesome road doth walk in fear and dread, and having once turned round walks on, and turns no more his head; because he knows, a frightful fiend doth close behind him tread. —Samuel Taylor Coleridge [1]

Let’s take a moment here to question some of our more convenient ‘natural truths’: 1 Too much is made of the amorality of Nature. First of all, from an ecological perspective, the deadly tooth and claw of Darwinian struggle are primarily adapted as inter-species ‘crop-sharers’, and only during ritual displays do they become the ‘weapons’ of co-specific reproductive competition. In fact, to say that predator and prey are competing for a common prize, in the same sense as they compete with others of their own species for a mate, is to overlook so many differences in their roles as predator and prey, and even in their population dynamics, that the term goes beyond meaningless to misleading. So reserving the word, weapon, for co-specific politics makes it clear that there is no room for the characteristically human posture of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” in the predator-prey struggle that diversifies ecosystems. And as for the word, competition: as the ‘excluding hand’ of interspecific resource partitioning, it hardly fits the dependent relationship between a predator and its resource. It’s true that eyes and teeth can be both cropping tools and mating ploys (think “eye of the hawk and tooth of the lion” as well as “soft gaze and pearly whites”), and the extravagant feeling we call ‘vengeance’ most likely surfaces as a wild but fleeting impulse during ritual challenges, but the ecological business of killing distributes energy, it doesn’t waste it. The main consequence of our fear-twisted morality being less clear than Nature’s (for morality does apply, whereas fear does not, on the unborn, undying, evolutionary scale—think “war” of organisms vs. “alliance” of species) is that we regularly conflate our own un-Natural winnowing of psycho-logical constructs and techno-logical structures with these instincts for the culling of bodies (eco-logical structures) that were genetically downloaded from Nature in our deep past.

2 Another fear that is clearly no longer appropriate for humans is xenophobia: technological extensions to the human body neutralize all physical advantages that one sub-species can possibly have over another, and so they defeat the competitive exclusion of compromised hybrids that might have otherwise divided the human genepool. Genus Homo is famously a melting pot; it is no longer an expanding clade of non-interbreeding, resource-partitioned species, because technology’s potential for the equalization of human bodies subverts, irreversibly, the evolutionary justification for ‘racial profiling’, as a validation of species.

Perhaps this kind of questioning can point us in the right direction, but it doesn’t go deep enough. Because: 3 rationality itself is a twist we’ve added to our Natural promptings; it doesn’t contact the core. For example: our confusing the two kinds of cropping (of bodies and of ideas) can’t be cleared up simply by adopting a vegetarian diet (in fact, if this choice is based on a sentimental denial of Nature’s truth, the confusion is all the more entrenched), and our social biases can’t be tempered with liberal philosophy alone.

Our fears add a sense of horror to fundamental personal and cultural evolution by implying that the breaking of dreams and the breaking of bodies are hopelessly entangled; but if dreams, like Nature’s organismic programs, are reborn while ‘dying’ in the dreamer, this needn’t bring suffering to their human host any more than dying creatures cause Natural Systems to suffer. By relaxing our judgemental grip on ideas, we experience self-sacrifice as the way forward for cultures, and so we might recognize Nature’s, so-called ‘amoral’, struggle for bloody resources then as a portent of human argument. The problem is, we can’t really trust our authentic morality until we take an inner journey, and, like Nature, play the non-judgemental host to dreams, habits, attitudes and ideologies as they complete their ‘life-cycles’. When the body is ‘just sitting’, we see our busy thoughts, conforming to reflexes, at the im-mediate core.


1. Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. 1994 [1798]. Illustrated by Willy Pogany. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. New Jersey: Gramercy Books. Part VI. (No page numbers)

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