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Friday, March 03, 2006

A "useful species" indeed!

We Can Make Ourselves Useful as a Species
By Chaitanya Charan Das

Biologist E. O. Wilson as well as other scientists, have studied the complex interdependence among various species in the biosphere. He found that every species makes a constructive contribution - small or great - to the ecology of the planet. For example, if vegetation - grasses and shrubs - decrease, herbivores suffer. And if the number of herbivores decrease, the carnivores are affected. Wilson found that only the human species does not contribute to the ecology. If we became extinct, there would hardly be any problems for other species or for the ecology. In fact, most ecological problems would be solved if humans became extinct.

Arguably humans constitute the most intelligent species on the planet. Yet, science indicates that "intelligent" humans are nothing but a burden for the planet. Normally in a classroom the more intelligent a student, the more potential he has to make a positive contribution. Then why is it that the most intelligent species on the planet is making not a positive but a negative contribution to its biosphere?

All scriptures say that human potential is fully realised when we contribute to the planet at the spiritual level. When we function only at the material level, our potential is underused and even misused. The Bhagavata Maha Purana offers a mission statement: "Humans should function in the material realm only for maintaining existence, not for seeking enjoyment. For they will find real happiness only in spiritual realization".

What is spiritual realization? And what has it got to do with saving the ecology? Spiritual realization reveals to us that we are all children of God with nature as mother, as mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita: "Of all embodied beings that appear in all the species, Arjuna, Nature is the conceiving Mother and I am the seed-giving Father".
Normally, parents nurture children. Similarly in the cosmic family, God, the divine father, and Nature, the divine mother, maintain all living beings. And just as children live happily when they follow their parents, we too can flourish if we live in harmony with Nature and God. When children shun the protective embrace of their parents, they are open to risk. When human' reject God's protection and embrace materialism and consumerism instead, they experience stress, anxiety, violence and ecological disaster.

Materialism and consumerism lead to greed, selfishness and exploitative mentality. These ideologies replace pure human desires - to find immortal joy in loving and serving God - with the polluted desire to seek flickering pleasure by exploiting nature. This pollution of the heart impels people to knowingly persist with activities that pollute the environment. For example, due to greed, industrialists avoid treating toxic effluents before releasing them into rivers. Therefore, only when people learn to find happiness within can we hope to avoid ecological apocalypse.

The easiest and most effective way of finding inner joy is by chanting the Holy Names of God. When people chant, find inner happiness and become free from pollution of the heart they will desist from activities that pollute the planet. To save ecology there is an alternative to annihilating humanity: annihilate instead the ignorance that misleads humans into materialistic living.

Saying that a lot of my views are expressed in this piece of writing by Chaitanya Charan Das would be a pathetic attempt at freeloading. However, I have to say that there are several points in this that I feel I have brought up before. If this is still not the case, then the contrasting questions of "what role do we as humans play" and "what role are we, as humans, supposed to play" have taken up a lot of my thinking time. And when I speak of playing a role, it is in reference to the role played in the "greater scheme of things"...or "life in general".

Let me attempt to define a parallel notion, in the hopes of throwing some light on this confounded subject. In the state of Kerala, I have found that 99% literacy does not in anyway mean, or lead to, more intelligence. Now, before you begin to argue that literacy is a facet of intelligence, namely being a tool that empowers the literate being to acquire additional knowledge through print and other media, I'd like to say that I agree with this point completely. Yes, I do believe that by acquiring the ability to read and write a person is empowering her/himself with the abiilty to gain more knowledge by reading, for example, and by being able to take part in the creation of new knowledge by being able to write. These abilities, however, will always play second fiddle to the attitude of the individual. How does this translate to the 99% literate Keralites? Well, in the year 2003 it was believed that 113 working days were lost to "strikes" and "hartals", or other forms of generally/supposedly peaceful protest. That's a lot when you take into account that you get about 104 days as weekends in the average year. So, this would translate into roughly 148 days worked in that year. But why would people be so willing to participate in such events, dare I call them that, when they can read newspapers and watch the news on TV to make sense of the fact that less work means less remuneration? And that's a personal benefit, if not the biggest one. Also, there would be no improvement in the living standards because working for only a little over 1/3 of a calendar year isn't going to make any place the hottest destination to invest in. The people in Kerala know this, yet they prefer to ensure that they take up some cause or the other and bring everything to a standstill because, if nothing else, it shows that they have the ability to do so. Well, I hope they felt better.

Now back to the main idea of this discourse, or article, that man's intelligence does not manifest itself positively in his immediate surroundings. Well, I've always wondered how some fundamental things never occurred to people, like saving water when it rains. Or my personal favorite is the fact that most non-vegetarians I speak to about the cruelty that goes into catering to their wants usually give me the whole, "But human beings were supposed to eat meat. Why do we have canine teeth if we were meant to be herbivores?" Frankly, it annoys me to think that they're visualizing large bovines grazing when they speak of herbivores because it's a pathetic excuse. If we were meant to eat grass and give milk we may have been born cows or goats instead of people. I mean seriously, why would nature go through so much trouble to create us this way if we were just supposed to gather and not hunt? How did anyone even buy this argument in the first place?

If I really had to answer the question, I would like to point out that there's nothing wrong with eating meat...not unless we utilize the carcass to it's maximum capacity. Ancient peoples often said a prayer to their gods when they killed/felled an animal to keep its spirit happy in the afterlife. Also, when they hunted in groups, they took as much as they "needed" so that ultimately, and possibly without realizing it, they were setting up a system of a self-sustainable ecosystem. Furthermore, what was killed was for the group. And, they would use the fur and the bones and whatever else that they could. There wasn't a lot of waste generated. None of this is anywhere along the same lines as sitting down to a nice dinner at a fancy restaurant, looking at a menu that offers you select cuts of meat like tenderloin or chops. Having said this, I simply must to say that most of these non-vegetarians will look at a video of animal suffering and wince or even say, "Oh my God! How cruel!" But the very next instant they will be sitting down to a steak or a fillet mignon. How can they not make the connection between what they see and what they're doing? Still baffled by this one.

And, on a similar note, or because of our superior mental capabilities, shouldn't we be more aware of what our actions are doing to the world we live in? But arriving at this point seems to be begging the question. Because, we're not aware, and we don't seem to be doing anything about it. It's not fair of me to say "we" collectively, for there are several organizations and groups which help in maintaining wildlife habitat and numbers. But the effort has to be collective for it to work, and having your own species thwart any attempts that you make, in the form of poachers and trappers and whatnot, doesn't really help set the precedent for a unified front to help tackle the issue. So, that's what it seems to boil down to. But how has any of this rhetoric helped to change anything? It hasn't...and sadly, I'm not the first one to talk about this and not act upon it.

I guess as a race or species, and although we seem to have the ability, we're more reactive than proactive. But that's how nature works...creatures die that they way we're headed? Hmm...
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