Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Nature's Little Rule Book - 1st Rule

I stumbled upon a very interesting website the other day and while it hasn't been updated since 2007, apparently, there are some very good essays to be had. One the most interesting and provocative was an essay by the site's owner Oneida Kincaid called "Nature's Little Rule Book". It is written by Mother Nature to us humans and reminds us of some of her basic truths and rules. I think it would be fun and possibly interesting to post the 10 rules over the coming weeks and see what kind of discussion(if any) it generates. Here is the introduction and the first rule:

Oneida Kincaid: Nature’s Little Rule Book

Hello, dearies, this is Mother Nature. I’m speaking up here because you humans seem to have an awful lot of difficulty understanding and living in accord with the rules of life on Earth, so I thought I’d lay it all out for you in a very simple and direct form. This is very important, so please pay close attention.

Rule No. 1 - Life on Earth is a web, NOT a pyramid.

At first glance, this rule may seem obvious, even trite. “Well, of course,” you may say. “I know that! Tell me something I don’t know!”

But this rule is not directed at your rational mind, which probably knows perfectly well that life on Earth is a complex interweaving of hundreds of millions of different kinds of organisms and processes. Instead, it is aimed at your cultural mind, the one that has been trained from the day you were born to believe in the mythology of your modern culture - a mythology that, when it is lived out in billions of peoples’ lives around the world, is destroying the web of life on Earth.

“Hey, wait a minute!” you are probably thinking. “We modern, scientific people don’t believe in myths anymore! Myths are only for less developed, pre-scientific cultures.”

But given that you humans seem almost completely unable to alter your destructive way of life even though your supposedly rational, scientific minds are generally quite aware that you are destroying the fabric of life on Earth, it seems rather obvious there’s something else going on than just rational, scientific thinking. That something else, I suggest to you, is mythical thinking.

In its most basic sense, a myth is simply a story that attempts to explain to the people of any given culture how something came to be the way it is. A mythology is a collection of myths that, taken together, attempt to explain and express a culture’s deepest understanding of the world and how it works, and the place of humans within it.

Of course, you modern humans don’t see your myths as myths, you think they’re The Truth, just like every other culture from the Greeks to the Maya has viewed their myths as The Truth. That’s what’s tricky about myths - they don’t appear as myths to those living in them. So although you think modern people have progressed beyond all that mythology stuff, the fact is that snuggled up right beside your scientific understanding of the web of life is the pervasive myth that life on Earth is a pyramid - with humans at the very top.

According to your modern mythology, the broad base of the pyramid of life is populated by all of the bacteria and other supposedly “primitive” forms of life that are viewed as being animated by merely the instinctive struggle for biological survival and reproduction. In your mythology, as one climbs up this mythical pyramid, life becomes more and more complex until suddenly there is the great leap to the much-vaunted self-consciousness and presumed “superior intelligence” that allegedly makes you humans so “special” and “unique” among all the rest of life on Earth.

A more extreme form of this “myth of the pyramid” goes even further, lifting humans completely off the top of the pyramid and placing them in the space somewhere above it. In this version, humans have somehow magically transcended the whole messy, instinct-driven mass of life: there is the “natural” world - nature - and then there are humans.

This mythic imagery of a pyramid with humans at top is designed to emphasize several key, interrelated aspects of the “story” being told by the mythology of human civilization:

One, that humans are so special and different from all other forms of life on Earth, that you have somehow been elevated “above” everything else;

Two, that because you are such a special species, you are exempt from the rules of life that govern every other species on Earth;

Three, by virtue of your superior position at the top of the pyramid, you humans are somehow “meant” to rule over and use the rest of life on Earth for your own purposes; and,

Four, even though your supposedly “civilized” way of life is driving you to both a human and ecological catastrophe, you can’t give it up because that would mean giving up everything that makes you humans “special” and admitting that you are not, after all, “meant” to be at the top of the pyramid, dominating and using the rest of life on Earth.

In other words, the guiding mythology of modern society is the “myth of human exceptionalism” - a story that tells you that humans are so utterly special that the rules of life that apply to every other species on Earth somehow don’t apply to you; that the world was, in effect, made just for humans so you could have a stage upon which to show off what a wonderful and “highly evolved” species you are; and that you have no choice but continue acting as you have, even though you now face ecological catastrophe as a result, because that would mean not fulfilling your supposed “destiny” as the most wonderful, special species that has ever walked the face of the Earth.

The myth of human exceptionalism also tells you that humans are so special that, unlike every other species on Earth, you can somehow control your fate (and the fate of everything else that lives on Earth). That is the enormous - and fateful - conceit and drive behind agriculture and the entire edifice of human civilization that agriculture has inevitably spawned - the desperate attempt to wrest your fate from the “hands of the gods,” to become as gods yourselves, supposed masters of your own fate. But you are not gods, you do not have the gods’ wisdom about how the world works, so you are making a real hash of things in your vain efforts to be as powerful as the gods.

I hope that by now it is clear that, regardless of how you modern, “advanced” humans like to think about yourselves, the fact is that you do have your own unacknowledged myths and mythology. In and of itself, that is not a problem. What is a problem is that your particular mythology - the myth of human exceptionalism - has led to the point where Earth now stands on the edge of a sixth mass extinction, one caused not by an massive asteroid from space but by 10,000 years of humans living an unsustainable myth.

What is worse is that you seem helpless to do anything to stop your incredible destructiveness, even though you now stand on the brink of ecological and human catastrophe. In such a dire situation, it really does become imperative that you try to tear the blinders off and take a hard look at the mythology that is driving you to persist in such a destructive way of thinking about and living human life on Earth. In short, you need a radically new way of thinking about and living human life on Earth.

P.S. I know some of you might jump ahead and read all the rules but let's just focus on one rule at a time.
P.P.S. I did a quick Google for Oneida Kincaid and came up pretty blank. If one of you are better at this sort of thing than I it would be interesting to know what has become of her since this was posted in October of 2007.

1 comment:

Jambughoda said...

This was posted in May 2009 and there aren't any comments - Where are theee rest of the Rules?