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Our 10,000 year experiment with agriculture has been devastating to all of our cohabitants on planet earth

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Our 10,000 year experiment with agriculture has been devastating to all of our cohabitants on planet earth

The dominant life on earth began once as far as we can tell – though life might have emerged and failed multiple times before things finally worked out in our favor. Everything since then has been part of an immense food chain that ebbs and flows through photosynthesis, metabolism, growth and decay. In a very real sense the whole planet is one organism and it is that planetary organism that is threatened by the current dominance of one specie that learned to rig the game in its favor.

Addendum: I should probably have been more specific – pursuant to the above, I believe an organic diet is better for the planet than a strict vegan diet.

At the risk of appearing insensitive, I would observe that we can draw a lesson from the asteroids and sharks that applies to the current tempest in Washington. (If you are fully caught up in the quest for infinite justice and vengeance and self-righteousness and hate that so pervade the media just now, you will need to take a deep breath and relax before you read further. Or, perhaps, quit now, turn the page, and move on to less fractious fare.)

Like author Benchley penning Jaws, Bush is advancing a story which will profit him enormously, but which may or may not be true. It could be little more than a wild tale of sharks or asteroids, full of sound and fury but signifying nothing. Billions of dollars are being diverted from other urgent needs, massive commitments of troops are being planned, deals are being precipitously struck with governments around the world seeking their cooperation, policy is being hammered out in hours and implemented in days.

We generally find some comfort in thinking we know what we are doing. Cake recipes and plane tickets mostly get the results we expect from them. But as I’ve mentioned in at least one previous talk here, the evidence is very strong that we don’t have a clue why we decide to bake a cake or take a trip and careful research has established that we make decisions before we find out about them. Our conscious awareness trails behind our decision making.

It is a very clear demonstration of the subjectivity of time, as well as the fact that our brains always try to make sense of the world. A similar demonstration of that sense-making is the experiment in which subjects are given glasses whose lenses flip the world upside down. It doesn’t take long for the brain to adapt and see things right side up again, and then removing the glasses the world is upside down until the brain recalibrates.

On another track I have followed the work of many biologists, ethologists and evolutionary researchers and found this to be true

Another area where expectations backfire involves drug use. For over a century the United States has attempted to suppress the use of several substances that some people enjoy, with some becoming addicted. Making the use and sale of those drugs illegal and spending billions of dollars on enforcement efforts seems like it should make a dent in the trade. Most of us don’t want to get arrested, so it makes sense that with a big enough threat most people will comply. But of course most drug users don’t get arrested, and even if arrests were more common, we aren’t very good at personal risk assessment when we are after something we want or enjoy. So we have more kinds of drugs, more quantities of drugs, more potent drugs and lower prices than when the much vaunted War on Drugs began. That’s not to mention a violent shooting war south of the border.

When Rosa Parks was arrested for failing to give up her seat on a bus she said she was thinking of Emmett Till and decided she would not move. Julian Bond, John Lewis and their cohort even referred to themselves as the Emmett Till generation.

I’d guess you talk to your pets if you have pets. My guess is based on the fact that we all talk, all the time. Mostly we talk to ourselves, of course. But we talk.

So at some point after our line of hominids veered off from the chimps one person suddenly had some sort of ability to use what we call language. Evolutionary change never happens in groups because genetic variations are individual. It takes a single individual change to begin the process of wider adaptation.

When I recall that memory I tell myself a story about it, and an interesting sidelight is that we change our memories when we remember them – in a sense playing that childhood game of telephone with ourselves, passing along the tale from past to future but changing it a little each time. Today I’d tell you that my Dad read to us nightly for years, but it couldn’t have been more than a few, because I was soon reading on my own – with a flashlight under the covers because I was supposed to be asleep. And it may have only been in the winter months when early darkness curtailed after dinner outdoor activity. We now know that the more often we remember something the less accurate it gets.

As an aside, it’s interesting how sensibilities change. The Dr. Doolittle books reflected the sensibilities of 1920s, and included some stereotyping of African people that is considered offensive today. In a reissue of the books in 1988, Lofting’s son expurgated the stories, after long deliberation about whether his father would approve. I understand the choice but it left out some lovely and pointed humor. In the original when Prince Bumpo was sent by his father the African king to England to attend Oxford, he was afraid he’d be eaten by white cannibals. That’s missing in the new version, and what the modern reader misses then is a wry commentary on cultural assumptions. Bumpo also expressed a desire to become a white man at one pont, which offered another potent bit of cultural commentary, and that’s missing in the rewrite.

Some thoughts on omnivory

Looking down from 30,000 feet one can reasonably argue that agriculture, not eating apples, was our original sin. We escaped the bounds of nature and set about transforming the earth.

Hominid apes are omnivores. I recall how surprised Jane Goodall was when she discovered that chimpanzees hunt. Volunteering each week at the WNC Nature Center I’ve had the chance to show children the skulls of various animals and discuss their diets. Strict carnivores have fangs and cutting teeth. Strict herbivores have biting and grinding teeth. Omnivores like humans and chimpanzees have both.

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