Homo sapiens, as my wife constantly says, is the worst species on Planet Earth — violent, self-destructive, selfish, greedy, prone to self- delusion, utterly careless about other species and their space, and insouciant about our common right, on Planet Earth, to continue to exist.
I have been alive for seven decades, some of the most violent in recorded history, during which only occasionally has one has been encouraged to be hopeful about our species and its future. Of course, from time to time, one is overtaken by the sheer beauty of life and the moments it offers, but I have lived long enough to learn that even these usually have their downsides, as the Chinese remind us, with their theories of Yin and Yang (Yin representing negativity, Yang positivity, everything being inhabited by each of these).
The other night I listened to a wonderful concert on television of Richard Rodgers’ music. I was thinking that the United States has given us this, as well as its current political excrescence, which seems so grave a threat to the world. But when they got on to Oklahoma!, I couldn’t help but think: this music has sanitized the image of Oklahoma and the United States, and has spread that sanitized image throughout the world’s cultures, obscuring the fact that Oklahoma was once the home of all Aboriginal peoples gathered from east of the Mississippi, and that these people were brutally driven out. It is at this sort of sanitizing that the United States culture has shown itself so expert.
This reminds me of the recent death of Dee Brown, author of the mind-blowing Indian history of the US, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. This book, published in 1971, established forever in my mind the image of the United States as a nation built on lies and betrayals: it tells of treaties that were no sooner signed by the United States government authority than abrogated. Indeed, in a forthcoming book, Alberta academic Tony Hall argues that the United States used the Indian populations to perfect the techniques of betrayal and unilateral use of force that they have since used in their approach to the rest of the world, techniques that they are in the process of polishing at the moment under the leadership of the appalling George W. Bush. Brown’s death has been greeted throughout Indian Country as “the loss of a good friend.”
Of the many defects of homo sapiens enumerated above, there is no doubt in my mind that the greatest is our insistence on occupying the habitat that other species depend upon: our constantly increasing population is to blame for that. We have, as a species, shown no appreciation of the need to maintain ourselves in balance with all Life. How does one explain the refusal of the world’s wealthiest agency, the United States government, to support the efforts of Planned Parenthood and other international agencies, to limit population growth? (I have the answer: one explains it by the persistence of religious superstitions, even among the most highly educated people).
The National Audubon Society’s Web site at www.audubonpopulation.org/sec-tions/pubsvids/facts.cfm gives the facts about this population growth. It shows that since Jan. 1 of this year (a mere six days as of this writing), the global population has increased by almost 1.1 million people, that 425,000 acres of forest have been lost in those six days, that 5.8 million tons of topsoil have been lost in those six days, and that nearly 67 million tons of oil have been consumed in those six days. The scariest of these statistics is the loss of topsoil: a few years ago when I was investigating this subject, I discovered that the Canadian Department of Agriculture, with its huge resources and immense staff, was employing just one person to keep watch on this crucial aspect for the survival of life on this planet. (Incidentally, the Audubon Society shows other figures which indicate that per capita use of the world’s resources, except of fish, has not grown in the last 40 years, leaving one with the irrefutable fact that it is population growth itself that is increasing the pressure.)
One last point: at the weekend the Globe and Mail published a superb article by correspondent Stephanie Nolen about Stephen Lewis, the former Canadian politician who is now the UN Special Envoy on HIV/AIDS in Africa. Nolen went with Lewis to Zambia, where he visited places in which most people appear to have been already infected, and where the life expectancy has dropped in recent years from 58 years to 37. In Lewis’s opinion, whole nations are in the process of unravelling as tens of thou-sands of people are dying from this disease, leaving untold numbers of orphans, and no one to care for them. Confronting this disease, and the evident disinterest of those with money in the developed world, says Nolen, seems to be in the process of driving Lewis out of his mind. Nolen describes a truckstop at which truckers meet the hordes of prostitutes, 80 per cent of whom are infected, and pay them almost twice as much for sex without a condom as with a condom. The prostitutes, desperate to keep body and soul together for themselves and their families, take the higher money: the truckers then return to their wives and families, and, inevitably, infect them. This is a nightmare scenario.
Perhaps it is just another example of what is wrong with us humans. Why do we fail to provide the $50 a person that would halt the rampaging epidemic in Africa, a mere $10 billion in total — while the United States spends untold trillions of dollars on the military forces with which it seems intent on controlling the world?
Another remark on the periphery: the sober and respected Ottawa commentator, Craig McKie, recently commented on a discussion about whether Canada would ever join with the United States. In his piece he wrote:
“I am horrified with what the US is turning into and I am sure I am not alone in this. Living 10 miles north of the 4th Reich will not be easy.”
It seems, as my wife says, that we are the worst of species.
Thus my happy thoughts for 2003.