Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Using: Eight Belles

It was the spectacle of that poor, beautiful, powerful, damaged creature at the finish of the Kentucky Derby that led me to into rueful speculation, not for the first time, about the way in which we humans imperiously make USE of nature not only for our supposed needs but even for our sport and entertainment. In the case of Eight Belles (what an awful name to saddle a horse with--if you'll forgive the pun) I see two strikes against us: one is our questionable habit of meddling with the evolutionary process in order to satisfy our aesthetic or utilitarian needs. I've heard that the equine "thoroughbred" is so over-bred to increase lung capacity and body size that this kind of accident is unavoidable: too much weight is carried at too great a speed on too fragile legs. The second strike of course is that we then choose to pit these wonderful beasts against each other in order to satisfy our addiction to competition and to the thrill of speed and danger.

This is a narrow and highly specialized example of a much, much larger truth, however: we USE nature in every way, to her--and eventually to our own--disadvantage. It is not the animals who are despoiling this planet and its delicate ecosystems. They do not USE nature in this sense: they work with it, dance with it, if you will, in order to survive and perpetuate the species. It is we humans who rape, exploit, despoil and kill--often to no purpose other than the furtherance of our own power. We have forgotten the wisdom of our ancestors, who learned to read nature, revere it, and work within its boundaries. We have become too many, too greedy, too impatient of limitations, too neglectful of our rightful boundaries.

There is a superb article on this subject, "Faustian Economics," by Wendell Berry in the May issue of Harper's Magazine, to which I am unfortunately unable to provide a link (I think because you have to be a subscriber to the online version; I am a subscriber only to the hardcopy of the magazine.) Berry's thesis is that man has made a Faustian pact with the devil to indulge his concupiscence and greed, and to transcend his natural limitations--indeed, for the right to have his every need and wish fulfilled. The trade-off is not only his individual soul, however; it's also the planet he has been given to live on.

So we breed our thoroughbreds to race-track requirements and we race them till they drop. Then we "euthanize" them, to show how humane we are.


roger said...

and that michael vick person was so brutal and awful to have fighting dogs. but race horse breeders are so genteel and refined and white and rich.

we forget, or paper over with religious platitudes, that we too are animals, to our obvious peril.

robin andrea said...

We are the true beasts on the planet, demanding dominion over all and pretending there is a god who agrees with our presumptions. I have believed for a very long time that the earth would be better off without us. Have you read Alan Weissman's book The Earth Without Us? Imagining the earth restored without humans is a beautiful thing.

Mike Cross said...

On the other hand, on a good day alone by the forest, I have sometimes had the sense that, thanks to the evolution of our species over 400 million years or so since crawling horizontally out of the primeval swamp, thanks to our evolution in the direction of conscious upright sitting, thanks to all nature's work in evolving us... we human beings now have the possibility of holding a mirror up to nature.

I observe this fundamental optimism about the human condition running through the teaching of Gautama Buddha, and also the teaching of of FM Alexander and Alfred Tomatis. Maybe William Shakespeare was pointing us to it too.

Cliched though the expression is, the truth IS only one. We, notwithstanding our human arrogance, are living in it and we have the potential to appreciate it.

Imagining the earth restored with humans: now that would be a beautiful thing!