Wednesday, July 13, 2011

We Are Animals: Naked Running and the Destruction of Planet Earth

Running is great. Running in the summer is even better. And running in just a pair of short shorts and shoes is heavenly (for me at least - can't speak for the people who have to look at me). I’d run naked, but even here in super liberal Jamaica Plain, I’m not sure that would fly. The breeze and the sun feel good. Breathing is easy. And it's good to remember sometimes that, underneath our button down shirts and pleated pants, we're really just animals.

The more fancy-pants we as humans get, the easier it is to forget that we’re animals. 99% of our DNA is the same as apes. Some probably large percent is the same as a slug. It's only very recently (relatively) that two evolutionary developments - thumbs and super-sized frontal lobes - gave us the ability to create all the tools and infrastructures that have separated us so profoundly from the rest of the animal kingdom. But at the end of the day, when we step aside from our thoughts and possessions and daily routines, we're just sloshing piles of bones and guts and fluids, same as all our other animal brethren.

You can't really be judgmental about something an animal does. Animals do what animals do. Animals don't make personal decisions about diets and carbon footprints and hits to their personal reputations. They just do their thing – whatever's in their DNA. So how did things get so much more complicated for humans? It seems to me that something big happened when humans made the leap beyond simple subsistence – something no other animal has been able to do. Other animals can't do anything more than survive. They can't do much to save up for the future, other than maybe hide away a few nuts for the winter. And they can't specialize – gain some specific skill that they can barter so that other animals will do stuff for them.

All the complicated human infrastructures that form the modern world – government, economics, skyscrapers, medicine, space travel – developed quickly once our human thumbs and brains evolved to the point that we could do more than subsist. Having arrived safely at the top of the food chain and domesticated virtually every natural power for use in feeding our insatiable appetite for more stuff, we diverged completely from all other animals. The lives we live today in the first world – covering ourselves up with designer clothes, pecking away all day at computer keyboards and driving around in our cars, has almost nothing in common with the way our predecessors lived just a blip back in evolutionary time.

Oh, and no other animal has ever been capable of destroying the world. As the population grows, as more people are able to live industrialized lives, and as the amount of natural resources needed to sustain all those lifestyles explodes correspondingly, we're changing the fundamental composition of the Earth. Whether we're destroying the Earth is no longer even debatable. It's only a matter of how many more generations it will be before we've changed the Earth enough that we can no longer live here. Or, there's always the more streamlined possibility of a few nuclear weapons getting us to the same place in a matter of minutes.

With great power comes great responsibility. It's my fatalistic view that we've thrown nature irreparably out of whack, but that we nonetheless have an obligation to make at least some effort to delay the inevitable. I think we should have the humility to recognize that while we're lucky to have evolved to the point where we can create so much, we also have an obligation to take responsibility for the damages we're capable of causing. There's an easy opposing point of view, I know – that just like any other animal, we should be free to do whatever we can using the powers we've been given. And if living the way we live is harmful to others down the line, so be it. I'm not totally opposed to that line of thought. The laws of physics were set in motion a while back. Based on those, modern organisms evolved the way they evolved. Our planet is one of a billion in a galaxy that's one of a billion, and so on. And if we blow it out of existence, the rest of the universe will hardly bat an eyelash. More intelligent life is out there somewhere. More will come into existence at some point. Earth is just a little flash in the cosmic pan.

Whoa. Heavy shit – a little sample of what goes through my mind when I'm clomping around some Boston path, almost naked, early in the morning. We're a pretty highly evolved species. We've got cool inventions and fancy tastes. And thumbs and abstract thoughts. But we're just animals. And that's a good thing to remember sometimes. Get naked and keep it real!

No comments: