Respect. It’s a word hoisted to near-sacred status in the press, in literature, and in song. We all want respect, despite the fact it is an ill-defined concept at best. Non-vegans use it in attempts to silence vegans, telling them “You should respect my choice to eat and exploit animals.” Thought Police Vegans (the dreaded TPV) use a loose, indiscriminate notion of respect to bully other vegans, trying to shame them into pre-conceived notions of what is politically correct.
Respect can seem awfully complicated. So complicated, that perhaps the lack of respect is much easier to understand. A lack of respect boils down to a simple formula:
You have it. I want it and I will take it from you by whatever means is necessary.
Few members of homo sapiens have ever possessed respect. I would argue that we, as a species, have an innate handicap when it comes to respecting other individuals. We are so inherently without respect, we have been indiscriminately wiping out other species since the morning of our own prehistory. Early humans did not co-exist with dinosaurs, no matter what Southern Baptists believe. Early humans did co-exist with giant sloths, huge, flightless birds, wooly mammoths, and an extended menagerie of beasts we don’t know about. Early humans ensured their descendants would know neither the dread inspired by a sabre-tooth tiger’s roar nor the shadow of a giant rodent by eliminating them, more often than not for their meat. Much later, we destroyed brown zebra-ish animals called the quaggas for their meat and hides after keeping them in zoos for our amusement. We wiped out passenger pigeons by 1914. They used to blacken the sky; so large were their flocks. Why? Somebody with “class” decided their meat was tasty.
Respect has never been a natural phenomenon among human beings. Even towards our own, we easily discard the façade of respect if there is enough benefit in exploiting another human: hence slavery, prostitution, and good, old-fashioned murder. This is why I find it irritating when someone uses the “but we have always eaten meat” defense of eating animals. Yes, we have always eaten meat even though we have no biological need to eat meat; this is true. We have always used animals insofar as to steal something from them, be it their eggs, their milk, or their very lives. At no time did we need to sup upon the flesh of cadavers, yet we convinced ourselves otherwise from the beginning of recorded time because meat is tasty (and addictive). Let me say that again: Meat is tasty. It is so tasty, when push comes to shove and humans have no animals to eat, they will almost always resort to dining upon other humans, who reportedly taste like either pork or veal. Being a ghoul may not be good for the soul, but it tastes great and taste is all that matters.
If humans have little general regard for other species, they are a thousand times more careless when it comes to respecting the environment they live in. We seem to be genetically programmed to destroy the place we live in and move on. Let’s say there are twenty people who share twenty acres of land, with five different four-person families. Though an acre per person, or four acres per family, should be more than enough to sustain everyone through several generations, you know what will happen. There will be fights over who has better land. At least one family will decide to raid the other family’s storehouses on a regular basis. All of the families are sure to pump out dozens of children, especially if there is any form of prosperity.
What goes unquestioned is their “right” to settle the twenty acres for humankind, never mind that the acreage might have been an ecosystem supporting hundreds and possibly thousands of other species. When that acreage has been exhausted, our original twenty will move on, hoping to find another ecosystem to exhaust. This is the pattern of 99% of all human habitation. Did any one in the twenty think, “Gee, maybe I should avoid having my own children because resources might become scarce?” Would it have been possible for our original twenty humans to condense themselves to living on only ten acres, using intensive organic farming methods to support their population and leaving the rest alone? I think the answer is yes, because human ingenuity, like human stupidity, knows few boundaries, but the idea of conservation is almost never considered.
The above is why there are so many empty malls and office parks where I live. I have fantasized about creating a documentary about the empty buildings that proliferate in my neighborhood (and probably yours too) along with empty houses and apartments. Vacant properties multiply like tribbles around here – if you close your eyes, when you open them, an empty mall or office building will appear that you swear was not there before. And if you wait thirty seconds, you’re sure to hear the sound of a bulldozer razing a tiny patch of forest for a new mall, house, or office building that will be magically empty within five years or less.
There is an awful lot of empty, indoor space these days. Half-vacant office parks, defunct strip malls, unrented apartments, and unsold houses clog my suburban landscape, yet the homeless shelter is full every weekend and teenage kids have no place to hang out at night except Denny’s. All of this vacant space is being heated and cooled with a mixture of nuclear, coal, and a tiny bit of wind power courtesy of my tax dollars and an idiot cadre of corporate landlords. All of this space was once the habitat of prairie fauna and flora, and you’d swear it is haunted by the melancholy cries of beautiful, extinct creatures if you listen close enough to the crappy, overloud popular music piped into every Bed, Bath, & Beyond and White Chocolate Grill.
From parking lot to shining parking lot, America’s malls offer a quick glimpse of what the utter lack of respect for nature looks like. America, its empire fully over-committed, may not be winning in the Ukraine, but it has won the war on its own wilderness by building a mall over it. To add insult to injury, housing developments and malls are often named after what they destroyed: Tanglewood Road, Forest Trail, Winding Creek, Willow Ridge, Chippewa Court.
For the one out of a thousand human beings whose nature is not as demonic as the rest, the consciousness of knowing the difference can be emotionally crippling. As I have said before, if the human race can be summed up in one word, it is “suicidal”. Whereas a nihilist like me is unperturbed, the less-demonic individual is cursed with visions of the inevitable results of our self-destructive propensity. In short, we’re doomed, and our lack of respect will be what did us in.
Just when homo sapiens will cause our own extinction is unknown, though I estimate we have anywhere from 300 – 10,000 years, the last of which will be very, very bad. At current rates of acidification, the ocean will be dead in a hundred years or less. A dead ocean means a dead planet.
Human populations are growing exponentially. If we are yeast in a barrel, we are almost at the beer stage. Though a small number of us are aware enough to see a dreadful event coming down the pipe, there are too few willing to change their ways to make any difference. The great Permian extinction took less time than this Anthropocene one seems to be taking, and in terms of geological time, the Permian took place in the blink of an eye. Keep in mind that during the Permian extinction, also known as The Great Dying, 96% of all sea life and 70% of all life on land came to an end. This resulted in dead, sulphurous oceans and acidic green skies. This extinction, which did not have a self-appointed, self-seeking, parasitic, “intelligent” species helping it along, was most likely caused not by an asteroid but by a huge carbon release and planetary overheating which was most likely the result of methane plumes. Sound familiar?
I believe Gaia will survive the next extinction, but people? Not so much. Imagine a scenario that is a cross between Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and modern day Monrovia, Liberia, replete with ten-year-old, heroin shooting prostitutes and cannibal warlords. It’s not a place I’d want to bring my descendants into and I’m glad I didn’t.
All of it, of course, was avoidable. We can exist and simultaneously respect other beings, including other homo sapiens. We can use less than we need and live in tiny apartments when a giant McMansion would be nicer. We can avoid buying a thing so as not to waste the Earth-stuff that went into making that thing. We usually don’t though, and people who use less are ritually taken advantage of by those who use more. This is why we’re doomed as a race.
I give up. It is too late. There’s no reversal of our current carbon status, New Enlightenment, or Singularity on the horizon. We will keep doing the same thing and soon we’ll go extinct because there are no new planets to run to. Yeah, that whole terraforming Mars thing? Mark my word: that’s going to end badly. The brightest of the so-called wise, wise men are infants throwing a tantrum because cheap fossil fuels are running down. They never got over a “party like it’s 1999” mentality.
Gaia isn’t trying to punish anyone; she’s just doing her thing and we are making it happen faster than previously anticipated. Respect is like that – if you don’t have it, it will come back and bite you in the ass.