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A few weeks ago, I clicked on an online article for what seemed like an interesting but innocuous subject: human parasites. The slide show led me through tapeworms, Rhinosporidiosis and Triatomine bugs. But I did a double take as I clicked on the last link and read the following:
But while we’re on parasites: The big picture singles out us. We’re a parasite of sorts. … Many of us are a burden on our “host,” Planet Earth. Deep ecologists believe that all forms of life have an equal claim on existence. Humans are only a part of nature, and not necessarily the most significant part. Think about that for a bit.
After reading about blood flukes and African eye worms, this was such an unexpected twist of logic that I blinked in surprise and wondered if I’d accidentally clicked to a different page. But no, this writer apparently believes that humans are a parasitical species. (I won’t link to the article because I don’t want to attack the writer; I merely want to address the issue.) Additional research on the author led me to these statements:
Once you broaden your definition, you can label many things parasites. A lot of people ask me, “Do you think humans are parasites?” It’s an interesting idea and one worth thinking about. People casually refer to humanity as a virus spreading across the earth. In fact, we do look like some strange kind of bio-film spreading across the landscape. … I think it’s a pretty good metaphor. If the biosphere is our host, we do use it up for our own benefit. … I don’t think there’s anything all that bad about being called a parasite. Parasites are very sophisticated; parasites are highly evolved; parasites are very successful, as reflected in their diversity. In fact, I would say that we may be parasites, but we’re not very good ones. Successful parasites do a very good job of balancing – using up their hosts and keeping them alive. It’s all a question of tuning the adaptation to your particular host. In our case, we have only one host, so we have to be particularly careful.
What interesting logic. The earth is our “host,” and we’re parasites. By definition, a parasite is something that takes but doesn’t give back. This is how deep ecologists view us.
To extend this reasoning to its logical conclusion, it would seem deep ecologists would prefer to do with humans what it’s best to do with all parasites: either get rid of them, or at least reduce the population to a controllable level so as not to damage the host organism.
This made me wonder: Why do some people regard humanity with such loathing?
“Although most environmentalists are emphatic in their professions of how deeply they care about every little earthworm and gnat on the planet, environmentalism is, at its core, the hatred of human life,” writes Carter Laren in a 2002 essay.
Living where I do – surrounded by vast stretches of beautiful land with relatively few people – it’s hard for me to wrap my mind around the idea of hating humans. Here I see people living in harmony with their environment to the best extent possible (and yes, that includes hunting – we’re predators, after all).
But if you’re a deep ecologist crammed into a ginormous city with millions of other rats, I guess it’s easy to see the downside to humanity. If you’re experiencing firsthand the crime, pollution, attitudes and pressure of too many rats, I suppose I’d fantasize about exterminating some, too.
There is no question our current population of over 6 billion people can cause environmental damage. Personally I wouldn’t mind seeing a gradual decline to a more (pardon the term) sustainable level. But unlike those who hate humans, I see such goodness and joy in people that it surpasses my concern for overpopulation.
All the advances that have made such population growth possible are things that I consider wonderful. Improvements in agriculture, medicine, technology and political philosophy have made our lives immeasurably better.
As an example, we had a recent disaster in our neighborhood in which a 15-year-old boy accidentally amputated his left thumb and forefinger. Through a combination of modern miracles (helicopters, medical jets, hospitals, surgeons, etc.) this boy is now home with his fingers reattached and an excellent chance of regaining the full use of his hand.
I cannot condemn the human skills and abilities that made this miracle possible. Due to the speed of the internal combustion engine – and the superb advances in surgical techniques – our neighbor will recover.
A hundred years ago he would be maimed at best, dead at worst. This is what modern technology can overcome.
Despite the fact that there are a number of deep ecologists I would happily consider pushing down a flight of stairs, I find humanity to be a joyous, splendid thing. No other species can dance ballet or play the fiddle or paint a landscape. No other species can heal its own as well as other species. No other species can worship and revere. No other species can care.
Is that such a bad thing?
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying people should have free reign to trash the environment. I agree that too much of Western society is caught up with excessive consumerism. We chose a “green” lifestyle because we believe we should be good stewards of our resources (plus it’s cheaper).
But I cannot and will not endorse such statements as “Human suffering is much less important than the suffering of the planet” (David Brower, former head of the Sierra Club and founder of Friends of the Earth) or “We humans have become a disease, the Humanpox” (Dave Foreman, founder of Earth First!, whose primary goal is cutting the world’s population by 90 percent), or a statement uttered at one of Earth First!’s gatherings: “Optimal human population: zero.”
Winston Churchill said, “A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.” It seems the human-haters fit this definition.