October 29, 2020

Thinking reeds that think badly


The human being appeared on Earth recently. One of the most complex and at the same time most fragile. To be alive it needs a lot, more and more, and that’s what it does: it preys. When we were few, not so long ago, we barely influenced the environment. But now we are the most widespread mammals, our biomass far exceeds that of any other: we need a lot of energy. Furthermore, eating and drinking are not enough for us. As social beings, successful in this regard, we need much more. If we had remained as hunter gatherers, our species would have little impact on Earth: we would be few and undemanding. They, it is said, were no less intelligent than us: on the contrary, their brain, somewhat larger, perhaps points to their being more so. Anthropologists and paleontologists tell us that they were happier. They are speculations. The Neolithic revolution, which I suppose was slow and uneven, produced a chain: to the whim of the land and the climate and to the institutions. We could say, with reservations, that a microbe – the simplest life and, by the way, very efficient – would be the analog of a family group of hunter-gatherers. The complexity, and the mechanisms of control and stabilization, increases as cells group into organisms. The human being emerges as one of the most complex. Despite this, it has a great capacity for adaptation, surviving in very disparate environments. That strength is also fragility. Their success story as a species parallels the creation of larger organizations with less obvious ties of connection. It creates a superorganism, the current society, which is supported by formulas unimaginable 40,000 years ago. That fragile being, who is born defenseless, who lives years of extreme vulnerability and who as an adult only has to defend himself the skill and strength with which he can throw objects and hit the target, grew as a species thanks to his ability to create effective social organizations, flexible, adaptable, fluid. But at the same time, like himself, due to their size and complexity, they are fragile.

We have fulfilled the biblical precept: grow and multiply. And as kings of creation we have taken possession of it, or almost. Because there are the consequences of our insatiable predation: a fragile and unstable atmosphere for our living conditions that threatens our survival. And a reminder of our vulnerability: being, if it can be called that, the most elemental among the living has managed to bend us.

The goal should not be to save planet Earth. Perhaps we have become a plague, a very efficient devastating machine. One more of those that threaten the stability of the planet. Like meteorites, earthquakes, volcanoes, glaciations … Phenomena that we call natural that at different times radically changed life on Earth. They changed it, they did not extinguish it. The human being is now the one who accelerates the changes and gives rise to a new geological era that we call the Anthropocene, because we are the protagonists. A leading role that can be expensive for us.

When it is said “save planet Earth”, when ecologists denounce the depredation of species and territories, I think the anthropocentric vision is evident. Which is the one we should have. It’s not out of love for the Earth, it’s out of love for our species. One has to try to stay alive and procreate and only as a species will we survive. You have to be as selfish as is convenient for your benefit. So saving planet Earth requires a surname: planet Earth that is favorable to the human species.

The almost 8,000 million human beings hardly mean anything in terms of biomass: only 0.01% of the total. Plants dominate this area: 70%. Microbes follow: 13%. Those two figures are enough to show that the most primitive is what lives the most. It is true that as mammals we are the most abundant: 36%. To this we must add an extension of ours: domestic animals, which constitute 60% of all mammals. The savages, 4%. It is clear that being a mammal is difficult.

It is not necessary for the universe to arm itself to destroy us, we are fragile thinking reeds: will we use this power to ensure that planet Earth continues to welcome us?

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