Sunday, December 21, 2014

Homo eradicatus

Season's Greetings - Merry Christmas, Super Solstice, Happy New Year etc - all fellow ruthless, insatiable members of our species Homo eradicatus who are watching the approach of the gathering storm!  As usual I have been collecting links to emerging science about ozone poisoning forests, but that topic will have to wait until after the family festivities.
After I hit "publish" it will be full-out baking and decorating. This post will just note that massive tree declines have been detected by NASA in the Amazon, and scientists are pointing to deforestation as a primary reason that debilitating droughts ensue.  Yes - science now affirms that this is how we have created deserts throughout history.
If you are looking for a movie to watch over the holidays, I highly recommend Belle (assuming you haven't seen it already).  I initially rented it because I love the escapism of a good historical costume drama, but it turned out to be much more than that - the tale delineates the distinctions of class, sex, race and marital politics of the day.  Based on a true story, it follows the struggles of the child of a slave who is raised by her wealthy relations in England.  Her impish intelligence shines through in this astonishingly lovely contemporary portrait with her more privileged white cousin who, in no small irony, winds up as much a prisoner of her gender as Belle is of her race.
It also, primarily, involves the passionate debate over slavery that dominated the times, revolving around the complex court case, presided over by Belle's conflicted guardian, Chief Justice Lord Mansfield.  The insurance company has refused to pay damages following the infamous massacre of the ship Zong about which, I am ashamed to say, I had never heard of before - even though The Slave Ship, a painting which immortalizes the event by J.M.W. Turner, hangs in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts - so I know I must have seen it.  A high resolution view can be found here and packs a astonishingly powerful, visceral punch with incredible delicacy and subtlety.

There is romance in the movie too but, above all, it resonates with a complexity that is lost in the vacuous anti-civilization posturing that passes for historical analysis in too many corners of the internet and alternative media today.

Along these lines, I watched the following quick excerpt from a talk by Derrick Jensen, which is compelling and heartfelt, but (in my opinion) fundamentally flawed:

My comment was - He's right - it is a failure of imagination. The problem that he is missing is that most people can't help it - they LITERALLY can't imagine a world without a living biosphere, because (with the exception of the clinically depressed aka mutants) the human brain neurologically just doesn't work that way.  So unless there is some way to magically evolve the human brain to be different than it is - maybe another 500,000 years or so - Homo eradicatus is trapped in an unsolvable, intractable dilemma.  The research discussed in an article winningly titled Your Brain Won't Allow You To Believe the Apocalypse Could Actually Happen -  is only one of many neurological studies that demonstrate the rigidity of human behavioral attributes, and observes the results of both experiments and MRI studies:

"...this human propensity toward optimism is facilitated by the brain's failure to code errors in estimation when those call for pessimistic updates. This failure results in selective updating, which supports unrealistic optimism that is resistant to change."

Humans seem to have a propensity towards one sort of imagination - that which is optimistic and hopeful. This has some felicitous results - who would try to invent something new if they didn't think they would succeed? But it also is the power that has enabled our species to colonize the earth - who would pick up their wife and kids and put them on a covered wagon or a canoe and set off into the complete unknown if they didn't have a near fanatical belief that they would find better circumstances over the horizon? Perhaps this has over time selected the optimism/hopeful trait, as those are the explorers - and survivors.

"The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory", a book by Cynthia Eller skewers the WooWoo proponents of that particular fairytale on much the same grounds.  She explains "...why an invented past won't give women a future" which, like the equally popular myth of the noble, sustainable hunter-gatherer tribe, is an insidious hope that interferes with a rational assessment of our predicament.

She writes of how, starting in the 1970’s, the myth began to dominate the cultural mainstream in the following decades, and of how these fictional societies were proposed to be “…not crude reversals of patriarchal power, but models of ease, leniency, harmony with nature, and significantly, sex egalitarianism”.

How well I can relate to her confession!

“…I had no trouble appreciating the myth’s appeal.  Except for one small problem - and one much larger problem - I might now be writing a book titled Matriarchal Prehistory:  Our Glorious Past and Our Hope for the Future.  But if I was intrigued with the newness and power of the myth, and with its bold gender reversals, I was at least as impressed by the fact that anyone took it seriously as history.  Poking holes in the ‘evidence’ for this myth was, to rely on cliché, like shooting fish in a barrel.  After a long day of research in the library, I could go out with friends and entertain them with the latest argument I’d read for matriarchal prehistory, made up entirely - I pointed out - of a highly ideological reading of a couple of prehistoric artifacts accompanied by some dubious anthropology, perhaps a little astrology, and a fatuous premise…or two or three”.

I find myself in a position similar to what she describes as to why she bothers to dispel the fantasies:  “For certainly there are other myths that I have never felt driven to dispute:  White lotus flowers blossomed in the footsteps of the newly born Hakyamuni? …Truth claims seem beside the point to me: what matters is why the story is told, the uses to which it is put and by whom.”

Just as I would never bother to argue with a devout Christian or Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist over their faith (I long ago gave up arguing with climate deniers, and nowadays don't often bother with chemtrailers even though they, at least, are cognizant that trees are dying), still, I too frequently feel compelled to dispel the myth of sustainable hunter gathers - because perpetuating that fantasy ensures we will never accurately examine and assess our behavior, our prospects, our alternatives - honestly.  See what Jensen says in another short clip about our species:

An impassioned spokesman for the theory of a peaceful, sustainable culture of hunter-gathers, he asserts - against vast evidence of perpetual warfare and slavery; and ubiquitous habitat and species destruction chronically followed by sequential collapse - that humans lived in harmony with nature for many thousands of years.  He assigns blame for the current pattern exclusively to recent industrialization and a culture of materialism, despite a plethora of relics of the importance of status as displayed by personal possessions - whether shells or feathers or gold trinkets.  Aside from the utterly relentless colonizing of even the most marginal habitat of the entire earth going back to the exact timeframe he cites - in itself enough evidence that humans are not and never have been "sustainable" as we eradicated habitat, burning and slashing ruthlessly through verdant, pristine paradises in merciless pursuit of meat - the extirpation of the megafauna by the first arrivals in every new location is now only disputed by true believers...the evidence has become so overwhelming.

One of the best discussions I have found on this topic is available to read for free on-line at - Speak Out About Endangered Species, by Baz Edmeades.  I won't post any excerpts, because it's brilliant, and anybody who cares about this topic should read it.  Or, if it is too long (although it is tremendously well-written) you could instead cut to the chase with a very amusing short column in, of all places, the Havana Times, titled The Myth of a "Sustainable Primitive Community" in Cuba (even still the locus of farming sustainability myths) which chronicles the demise of indigenous creatures that went into the cooking pot of the first immigrants to arrive on the island 6,000 years the Ornimegalonyx, at one meter in height believed to be the largest species of owl that ever existed (among many others forever lost).

This first film, a visually stunning time-lapse sequence, is a splendid example of our optimistic, powerful imagination at work...a city - sanitized, glorious, almost a sacred monument to man's ingenuity.  It is followed by a far more depressing, and I would say realistic, version of our contribution to earth today that left me in tears, even though I should know better by now.

Cityscape Chicago II from Eric Hines on Vimeo.

Many thanks to David Lange, Jenelle Green, David Veith and other friends both facebook and otherwise, who enrich my life by diligently sharing many of these wonderful links to videos, articles, and research.


  1. "The problem that he is missing is that most people can't help it - they LITERALLY can't imagine a world without a living biosphere, because (with the exception of the clinically depressed aka mutants) the human brain neurologically just doesn't work that way. So unless there is some way to magically evolve the human brain to be different than it is - maybe another 500,000 years or so - Homo eradicatus is trapped in an unsolvable, intractable dilemma." amen sister gail, merry xmas, dmf

    1. Thanks and to you too! And thank you for the endless hours I have spent immersed in links from your blog! In response to the "lack of imagination" comment I already got the cute new meme WCASFU (we civilized are sooo fucked up), some of the Leaver/Taker dichotomy rhetoric, and the deeply flawed misinterpretation of how "whites are infected with Wetiko" so I had to go again to Wiki and repeat: The legend of Wetiko or Wendigo has been appropriated by privileged white people to self-flagellate themselves with guilt for the genocide (some) of their ancestors perpetrated. It is not proof of any special cultural failure on the part of white people or any particular virtue on the part of indigenous Americans (who after all, were originally immigrants, who drove the megafauna to extinction without hesitation or remorse). The original concept was of a voracious, greedy, cannibalistic monster that served as a warning to the Indians to avoid cannibalism in times of famine. FAMINE. Because their populations - like any other human society - periodically went into overshoot of their resources.

  2. if u make to the end, get help right away...

    ► 97% of Tigers gone since 1914.
    ► 90% of Mountain Gorillas gone since 1985.
    ► 90% of Lions gone since 1993.
    ► 90% of Sea Turtles gone since 1980.
    ► 90% of Monarch Butterflies gone since 1995.
    ► 90% of Big Ocean Fish gone since 1950.
    ► 75% of River & Riverbank Species gone since 1970.
    .. ► 75,000 dams block U.S. rivers.
    ► 60% of Forest Elephants gone since 1970.
    ► 50% of Great Barrier Reef gone since 1985.
    ► 50% of Human Sperm Counts gone since 1950.
    ► 50% of Fresh Water Fish gone since 1987.
    ► 40% of Giraffes gone since 2000.
    ► 30% of Marine Birds gone since 1995.
    ► 28% of Land Animals gone since 1970.
    ► 28% of All Marine Animals gone since 1970.
    ► 93 Elephants killed every single day.
    ► 2-3 Rhinos killed every single day.
    ► Bees die from malnutrition lacking bio-diverse pollen sources.
    ► Malnutrition weakens bee colonies for disease and poisoning.

  3. Thanks Gail,
    Another great post that usefully captures many of my own 'depressive realist' musings. I agree with your reading of Jensen, as it always struck me how much energy he directed in Endgame towards rejecting/dismissing the claim that First Peoples were responsible for the megafauna extinctions. For Jensen, it absolutely has to be the case that there is a viable/sustainable way of life amongst indigenous/first peoples. Through his Rousseauian lenses, it is civilization that it the driver of all modern problems; whereas the distal cause is likely much further back along the track of evolutionary/natural history. Very surprised to see you citing Eller's work on matriarchalist prehistories as this was a major part of my doctoral research many years ago. It always struck me as an odd book, since her previous work was a phenomenologically rich, socio-ethnographic commentary on the newly emergent Goddess and feminist movements; but in the subsequent work she clearly decided to set about debunking and demythologising some of the cherished beliefs of her prior study subjects. At the time it seemed a jarring change of direction for her, especially as I was of the view at the time that it didn't really matter whether the matriarchal past was real or not, rather is functioned as an imaginative/utopian resource for thinking that 'another world is possible'. I'm more sympathetic with her now: a matristic/matriarchal/egalitarian golden age is indeed another dangerous fuel for optimism and false hope. However, as you and Eller note (though I don't remember her being so reasonable at the time (apologies Cynthia!)), the myths we feel motivated to dispel are a rather mixed affair/bunch. Like yourself, I'm tired with challenging many climate denialist and similar beliefs - my energies seem to be far better deployed elsewhere; but the poor Goddess feminists and matriarchalists will remain near the very bottom of my list of those warranting critique. Not that I think it will make a difference, but any Camusian defiance, scorn and active fatalism I have remaining - when it isn't short-circuited by my chronic reflexivity and worries about my own cognitive biases - seems more readily directed toward kicking out at the illusions and myths of Capitalists, Cornucopians, Humanists, Neoclassical economists, Techno-utopians etc.

    It's a sad business when we think Jensen's deeply affecting brand of 'depressive realism' isn't sufficiently realist.

    Keep up the great work in the New Year, you may be interested to know that your writings have exerted a strong influence on a current book project I am working on. I will send you a copy when it is eventually finished.

    1. Thanks so much Paul I am so excited about your book and rather astonished to have any influence! Sorry not to respond to you sooner but I put collapse aside for the holidays as my daughters were all here for a rare visit together and who knows how much longer that will be wishes to you in the coming year for peace and safety.

  4. Great job Gail, once again! I especially liked the juxtaposition of the two videos at the end. The first seems to be a product of the delusion of human wealth and power, the second the consequences of our inability to understand (the Guy MacPherson updated version of Albert Bartlett's famous quote regarding the exponential function, to include most everything human). Please enjoy the holidays this year as we may not have many left going forward. i'll be looking for more of your work next year with copious thanks.


  5. Dear Gail,

    Thank you for your posts. Please continue, if only for people like myself who feel a little bit less crazy/lonely reading your texts.

    Not only are the feeling of helplessness, the shame of being part of the ongoing destruction and the lack of hope for the next generation overwhelming. But the fact that no one is willing to open up and share on this subject is even more difficult to bear on a day to day basis.
    No later than yesterday was I given a sharp reply while trying to, yet again, engage in this conversation: they "believe in god", so it didn't matter. They also wondered what "I was living for", telling me that I was not a normal person... I guess nowadays normal is believing in fairy tales and abnormal is trying to be rational; the age of reason is long over.
    I didn't have any strength left to reply anything. These days, I just try to live lightly, not being too much a cause of suffering for other sentient beings. Even though I already let go of some things, I know how delusional I really am, just typing at the computer and still being part of the whole process...

    I wish you all the best for this year, the Xth (X being in no more than 2 digits) last one for our species.

    PS : my take on the future:
    PPS : if I understand well, "nature-bats-last" and you both agree on the fact that there is no more hope for the species. nature-bats-last focuses more on climate change, while you feel more touched by the massive death of trees triggered by the change of atmospheric composition. Also, nature-bats-last points to the (industrial) civilization as the main culprit, while you believe that human long had its trajectory and demise built in its very own nature. I am correct?


    1. Thanks for the link to your excellent summary post, Charles! And yes your PPS is a fairly accurate description although I have been convinced climate change was going ot drive us and most/possibly all species to extinction, eventually. In fact a rudimentary understanding of the way that evolution works, and an appreciation of the time scales involved, ought to be enough for anyone to understand that - although, even in very learned scientists, hope and/or arrogance seem to blind most people to that rather obvious conclusion. In general I take a more ecological viewpoint rather than exclusively climate change, which is quite the rage now, because even if the climate weren't changing, the destruction of habitat and pollution that accompany our continuing overpopulating the planet will be the undoing of us anyway. I also don't subscribe to the DGR idea that industrial civilization is to blame and should be destroyed. I doubt things will improve at all when industrial civ does collapse, because with it will go any restraint and everyone will just start chopping down trees and burning them, and eating any wild animal they can find, not to mention all the accompanying chaos and violence. IC is the outcome of all that has come before, it isn't itself the cause of anything and blaming it for what humans do is to deny our essential nature. It seems pretty obvious that our forebears annihilated the Neanderthals and Denisovans along with the megafauna, cause we are a top predator plague species. We just don't like to think of ourselves that way and so even most doomers have "spirituality", a stealth religion, that enable us to pretend all sorts of preferable nonsense scenarios, such as we are exceptional and immortal and fundamentally good and kind and sustainable.

      So I deeply relate to your feeling overwhelmed by a lack of hope; I just don't see any reason to have any no matter how attractive the idea might be. If you would like to join the Panic Room on facebook, you will find that you are not nearly as alone grappling with these issues and also that many, many people also have no friends or family other than on the internet with whom to discuss these issues. Email or friend me if you want to check it out, you would be most welcome. witsendnj at yahoo dot com

  6. Charles... I'm new to this blog and so my two cents of comments probably shouldn't be added but what the heck.... About 55 years ago I though that nuclear war would be our undoing. I was sure that Helen Caldicott would put some sense in the human species and that we would finally see the light. (not the nuclear kind) I was wrong, but not in the sense that we have solved that problem, but only in the 55 years of time I thought we would never have. The dangers are still there, but it has become just one of the scenarios with which our demise is likely to take place. In the last few months alone, even though I am relatively well informed about issues which present an immediate danger to our existence, I can add methane hydrate releases and ground level ozone as potential harbingers of doom for many people, if not humanity in general.

    There is one thing however that keeps me going, and it a stubborn and rigid belief that all is not yet done. We can change the human condition for the better. Not only that, but we have discovered along the way that, should we survive these trying moments in time, that a universe awaits, that our species was not a mistake, and that we can truly be a species that life couldn't wait to create. I know that's a tall order to fill, but we can do it. If Captain Kirk can explore deep space at warp speeds, so can we. All we have to do is to look at what makes us tick, understand our mechanics, and fix what needs to be fixed, or tweaked. Remember the theory of the Hundredth Monkey in which it was determined that if something good was discovered by one monkey, and if the discovery could be replicated by other monkeys, that monkeys everywhere would soon follow the lead. Since we are indeed a different kind of monkey, I still have faith that one of those ideas can still save us from the brink, and do it in style.... We need to create our own evolution, a possibility which only our species can do. It's not that we're special in any particular way, it's that we can become special if we give ourselves a chance to do just that. Well!!! I can dream can't I? Pie-in-the-sky...? Perhaps, but do other species have that possibility? Do you have a solution that will change the way we do things? I'll bet you do, and I'll bet there are others who can also do just that....

    1. If I am not mistaken, Captain Kirk was a fictional character.

    2. @David Veith Of course. He's fictional, we're real; therefore we're far more capable.

      *extracts tongue from cheek*

      'Anonymous' here does, however, point out the only possible way in which our species can survive. That it's very unlikely, and relies upon an unrealistic cognitive optimism bias is beside the point.


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