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Pandaring to stupidity and not natural selection

Friday, 25 September 2009 — by

Humans are changing the planet. Those that deny this are fools. But there are certain things that we’re simply accelerating, rather than worsening, or destroying. Several different species, including Pandas, are fading fast. But in our attempt to save them from extinction, we neglect the rest…

a Giant Panda eating

Chris Packham is a rare variety of the lesser spotted English naturalist, rare in the sense that he dares to have an opinion that doesn’t revolve around the emotive, overly sentimental drivel people bizarrely seem to expect, despite the best efforts of Sir David Attenborough, and he instead focuses of the economics of nature, and in turn, the ruthless rules of natural selection.

To this end, he had the temerity to voice an entirely sensible opinion regarding the even lesser spotted Panda, and explain to the egregious masses, clutching their cuddly Panda soft toys, that the aforementioned is essentially a lost cause and a money pit, and that conservationists should spend what little money they do have on those animals that can actually be saved from political pressures, war, poaching, human encroachment, as well as environmental, ecological and biological Armageddon.

As you can imagine, his views were about as welcome as a fart in a lift traveling non stop to the toy section of a department store, where people are hoping to buy a cuddly toy Panda, presumably.

So here’s my attempt to give some more meat to the bones of Packham’s Panda argument, in equally simple and blunt terms.

The extinction of common sense

Organisms are allowed to go extinct. It happens. And, it’s been happening routinely for over three and half billion years, which just happens to be the approximate amount of time life has been present on Earth.

If organisms didn’t go extinct, things would be quite different and very unpleasant. If we choose to ignore the more recent fauna and flora or the past one hundred and twenty millions years or so, and ignoring just about everything prior to that, right back to the primordial broth of bacteria of say, two billion years ago, if all bacterial life had survived, the entire planet would be a seething gelatinous mass of snot-like goo, many tens of miles deep.

We humans didn’t invent environment pressure, that’s something that has almost always existed — there is nearly always some other organism competing for the same space as another. Who survives is a combination of factors, including blind chance (as was the case with the mammals just after the Chicxulub impact of some sixty five million years ago, which dispensed with most of the large reptiles of the period). As a broad rule though, it’s the strongest that survive.

The meek won’t inherit the Earth, despite what effete and fanciful nonsense you may have be told at Sunday School, unless luck is on their side. And even then, their meekness will be the basis of their demise at some later date.

We humans survive and thrive because we are incredibly adaptable, versatile, agile, omnivorous, dexterous and intelligent. Any one of those attributes is enough for any one organism to eek out an existence. Well we have them all. And here we are, at the top of the tree of life, shittin’ on everything else, or at least what we haven’t eaten, or hunted for sport, or turned into furniture.

The most remarkable thing is, what we’re doing isn’t unnatural. And I’m sure many of you will recoil in horror when I say we are simply doing what all other animals do, and are predisposed to do.

When was the last you saw a dog, or a Panda for the matter, pick up it’s own shit, pop it in a bag and dispose of it in a more environmentally responsible way? Aside from some odd kids animated movie perhaps, you didn’t, nor will you. If we had seven billion dogs shitting, we’d have a problem, wouldn’t we? Of course we would.

Humans make a mess, as do all other forms of life. The problem is in 1. our sheer number, and 2. that we have broken from the more natural order of things, that might have mitigated some of this mess, while finally 3. we don’t just shit to make a mess anymore.

The bear truth about Pandas

So what about the Panda? Well, it’s likely that the Panda is an evolutionary dead end. Doomed to extinction by its eating habits, or even its habitat, or perhaps both. As I said, extinction happens and is an inexorable force of nature.

It is also likely that we have hastened the extinction of the Panda, but you could also argue that pressures placed upon the Panda could very well have forced our usurped ursine to evolve and adapt. Clearly this is not the case. In this case, the agents of change are too powerful and rapid. In the words of Packham himself: “That’s evolution, adapt to changes or die out.”

An evolution of human stupidity

Sadly, people are mostly stupid and they make emotional decisions. This is the reason why successive governments of various countries (with the obvious exception of China, ironically enough) daren’t even consider imposing a limit on the number of children each couple can have. It is, after all, the logical decision, which would have an almost immediate impact on the growing human population.

There are a ton of aid agencies working to remediate the infant mortality rate in places like India, but we’re doing relatively very little to educate people enough to have less kids. Hindering those efforts, Catholic missionaries are teaching those same people that contraception is wrong. It is no coincidence the most populous regions on Earth, such as Africa and Asia, are those that are most deeply influenced by Catholicism.

So the natural forces that would keep the population down are being disrupted by well-meaning but largely stupid people and the human population of the Earth is then left to grow out of control, and unchecked.

Economics usually has the final word, but no one is listening, because people are mostly stupid and they make emotional decisions.

We are at a point in time where we are beyond incremental changes. To make the changes that are required to save the planet from the human race, we must undertake extreme and exceptional measures. But no one is listening.

So ignore me and ignore Packham. Do what the good book tells you and go forth and multiply. And at same time, say “Fuck you, too!” to every other living thing, including the Pandas of this world, because if we’re too stupid to save ourselves, what the hell kind of chance is there for anything else…

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Brian Heys → Friday, 25 September 2009 @ 22:17 BDT

Interesting post Wayne. There are lots of strong reactions to the panda issue beginning to spring up all over the ‘net, and understandably so, as it’s probably the first time ‘mankind’ has been in a position to decide whether or not a species becomes extinct.

Should they be left to die out? Every part of me wants to scream ‘no, save them!’ but there’s a lot more to it than that initial emotional reaction. Personally, it saddens me that we even believe we have the right to make that decision.

Now to touch on the religious stuff:

In the context of the Bible, meekness is not weakness! It refers to a humility of spirit, gentleness, and consideration – the opposite of arrogance and aggression.

As for the meek inheriting the earth, well, don’t you think there’s a certain poetic justice to the idea that the ones who are aggressive, violent, arrogant, selfish, etc. may ultimately be the losers in the greatest game of all?

I think you are right to say “we are at a point in time where we are beyond incremental changes” and that “to save the planet from the human race, we must undertake extreme and exceptional measures”.

However, I disagree strongly with your assertion that “no one is listening”. Someone could be listening very closely to everything we say and do.

In fifteen years or so, it will be 2000 years since Christ ‘died’. A nice round number to pop by and pay us a call, don’t you think? After all, he did say he’d be back …

Wayne Smallman → Saturday, 26 September 2009 @ 9:11 BDT

B!

“Personally, it saddens me that we even believe we have the right to make that decision.”

The point I’m making is, it’s our arrogance that leads us to assume such things are our choice (an arrogance, I might add, that is derived from our feeble-minded religious teachings) to preside over the fates of all animals.

Natural laws are the final arbiters, not man.

“As for the meek inheriting the earth, well, don’t you think there’s a certain poetic justice to the idea that the ones who are aggressive, violent, arrogant, selfish, etc. may ultimately be the losers in the greatest game of all?”

I would be keen to have you provide me examples of kindness, fondness (beyond those of mother to offspring) and philosophical reflection in the animal kingdom.

There is no justice in nature, be it divine, poetic or otherwise. Life in the natural world, far away from man really is the survival of the fittest — the polar opposite of what your religion teaches you.

The fact of the matter is, we are the only animal that exhibits those attributes in abundance, and that has the time to indulge such aspects of their persona.

There is no such thing as good or evil because there is no evidence for or of such things in nature.

We do things for only 3 reasons: 1. pleasure, 2. profit, 3 self-perpetuation.

To assume that the entire range of mammalian emotions can be conveniently gathered up into the goblets of either good or evil is the very pinnacle of our arrogance and conceit.

And it is that arrogance and conceit that will be our undoing…

Brian Heys → Saturday, 26 September 2009 @ 11:24 BDT

First of all, I’d be interested to know which texts you’re referring to when you suggest religious teachings lead us to believe we have the authority to decide the fate of all animals. I freely admit I’m no Bible scholar, so if I’ve missed something interesting, let me know!

“I would be keen to have you provide me examples of kindness, fondness (beyond those of mother to offspring) and philosophical reflection in the animal kingdom.”

There are some examples of what might be interpreted as kindness and fondness in animals, particularly in their interactions with us: a dog’s fondness (some would say love) for it’s master is one; a weaker one might be the way cats often appear to bring back food for us – an act of kindness in return for ours to them.

It almost certainly isn’t the case, but this latter example does seem to suggest a weird kind of philosophical reflection on the cat’s part!

“There is no justice in nature, be it divine, poetic or otherwise. Life in the natural world, far away from man really is the survival of the fittest — the polar opposite of what your religion teaches you.”

Religion doesn’t teach that at all. The concepts of justice and belief can’t be applied to the animal kingdom because they don’t have a choice – everything ‘lesser animals’ do is governed by instinct and need, not logically thought-out sets of decisions.

We are the only creatures blessed with real choice and full knowledge of what we are doing. It’s through us and our actions that good and evil motivations become absolutely real. If you don’t believe me, do a few quick Twitter searches and you should easily find a few streams that represent both.

You’re right that arrogance and conceipt will be our undoing!

(Btw, none of the above is meant to be confrontational, Wayne, so apologies if it reads that way!)

Wayne Smallman → Saturday, 26 September 2009 @ 12:16 BDT

Gen. 1:28. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

The issue of dogs to humans is societal, as between kith & kin. Aside from the much allusive acts of altruism, which may yet be explained from the point of view of self-perpetuation, acts of kindness between species is rare to none existent, unless humans act as an intermediary, or are directly involved.

Fundamentally, the bible misleads people into the belief that humans are separate and quite different to animals — humans are not unique. Not in the least.

And this is at the heart of the problem; our conceit and misguided belief that we are a divine creature gives us the perception of dominance without fear of consequential substantial losses, the kind that we’re experiencing right now, as we damage the Earth and its ecosystem.

I can only be logical and objective. But religion is neither of those things and it angers me that we allow such systems a free reign, to do as they wish.

And I know you’re not being confrontational.

Brian Heys → Saturday, 26 September 2009 @ 15:26 BDT

I don’t think we are divine creatures at all. We aren’t divine. However, we are totally different from most animals. There’s no denying that. Just look at us!

Having said that, interestingly, at the most basic level we do appear to be constructed from the same building blocks – perhaps even by design? On this matter, did you see the videos I linked to on Twitter the other day? (‘The Language Of God – A Believer Looks at the Human Genome’ (Francis Collins): http://bit.ly/3jcmM) Pour yourself a beer. It’s well worth watching for the science, if not the religion.

There is more evidence that God exists than there is evidence to the contrary. Most people embracing atheism do so without considering this. They make a snap personal decision without a logical approach. (I’m not suggesting you’ve done this – I think you’re far too intelligent.)

When I left school, I stopped believing in God, and for a while told myself that there was no such thing, that we didn’t need a God, how could such a thing exist, etc. When I stopped, thought about it rationally, did my own investigation, and started to consider the evidence, I changed my mind.

My brother has a PhD in theoretical physics. You couldn’t meet a more rational, logical person than him. He’s a believer, too. We both came to the decision independently – it wasn’t a collusion.

I think to suggest that religion makes people conceited, arrogant, and misguided is perhaps a little unfair. Maybe such accusations should be directed at those who follow Barnsley FC instead of Manchester United?

Anyway, sorry, Wayne, I seem to have dragged your post a little off-topic!

Wayne Smallman → Sunday, 27 September 2009 @ 11:05 BDT

“Having said that, interestingly, at the most basic level we do appear to be constructed from the same building blocks – perhaps even by design?”

No, and absolutely no. There is no evidence for such thinking. And such thinking is by its very nature naive, defeatist and hostile to inquiry, which is what religion amounts to and asks of you; do not ask why.

“Most people embracing atheism do so without considering this. They make a snap personal decision without a logical approach.”

Which is what I would have expected you to say, and is completely wrong. It is no coincidence that atheists are represented by some of the most intelligent people alive. While by contrast, religion thrives on ignorance, fueled by fear, uncertainty and doubt amongst a predominantly ignorant following.

It’s strange, but most people assume I’m an atheist, and in a way I suppose I am by default, because I oppose all theistic contrivances. I don’t see myself as an atheist, I see myself as someone who sees things clearly and applies logic and objectivity as best I can.

I am aware of my own feelings on any given subject, but I can subtract that from the equation and run the numbers in their absence, arriving at a clean and logical outcome, regardless of how that outcome might come into conflict with my own feelings.

Having run the numbers, religion simply does not add up. But at the same time, the atheists have hit their own barrier of perception, too. So don’t expect me to leap to the defense of atheists!

However, both the theists and the atheists have missed something and both are wrong in one way or another. There is something else, and I don’t think either party is going to be happy with the final outcome.

The problem is, those of religion cannot ever be truly logical or rational, since their entire way of viewing the world is forever tinted by their beliefs.

Ask a man what colour the world is to him, when he wears rose-tinted spectacles.

I see the world as it is, not how I’d prefer it to be. And because of that, there is no colouration of what I see, certainly none that I cannot willingly remove.

So the problem for all religious people is that their grasp of logic is fundamentally flawed and weak because it is diluted and discoloured by their beliefs, and will always be interpretative, rather than being based on purely observational findings.

It’s like when I explain the difference between data and information, which nearly always results in: “But data and information are the same thing!”

No they’re not.

Data is what you begin with — the raw numbers. Information is what happens to data — when it’s formatted. I see the data and the information separately, while for you and those like you, data is often an inconvenience, which has to be formatted into information, within the context of your beliefs.

And therein lies the fatal flaw of all religions. And it is a flaw not one of you can ever hope to overcome. And this is why no child should be exposed to any religious teachings until after the age of 18, or we risk forever crippling their mental faculties for rational thought and reasoning.

With all due respect to yourself and your brother, there is something common to yourselves as well as most others who believe in one religion or another that predisposes you to fail in your application of logic, or to suspend logic and reason, for the sake of securing eternal comfort, which is what religion purports to offer.

I suspect it is a fear response to something in your lives, which forces you to gravitate towards a theistic conclusion because your rational mind is incapable or unwilling to accept observation. This discomfort with reality is well documented in psychology, it’s called Cognitive Dissonance.

Consider most born-again Christians, for example. Almost without exception, they have undergone a relatively terrible trauma in their lives, one they simply couldn’t deal with rationally. So to them, religion is the only thing that makes sense. Why? Because they lack the mental faculties for rational, introspective thought that would help them overcome such trauma.

Brian, religion is a social construct designed purely to facilitate control over the minds of men. You will never find any deeper meaning than you would from staring at a cloud in the sky.

Brian Heys → Sunday, 27 September 2009 @ 11:59 BDT

Chalk and cheese, I guess. ;-)

David Bradley → Wednesday, 14 October 2009 @ 15:40 BDT

You’re not trying to say that Sir David spouts “overly sentimental drivel” are you? I didn’t see any sentimentality when he was narrating that scene with the killer whales tossing seals around to flay them alive…

Pilsen → Monday, 26 October 2009 @ 22:25 BDT

Poor pandas…. why is it so cruel…..

Sorry Comments are close. Quite possibly for a good reason. Share your thoughts on some of my other posts or contact me directly.

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