The Fall Of Man by Michelangelo.

The problem with humans is….

Of course, there is a long list of itemized statements I could make, that are commonly enough heard and read about today. Many of which should be seen as symptoms, by my count. Disclaimer: This post series might land somewhere more succinctly explanatory… Eventually. For now, it is a response prompted by material on Facebook, posted by friends whom aren’t acquainted (with each other). Best to expect that I’ll approach the topic in a similarly distracting and off-handed way.

Let’s start by isolating a statement, which I’ve also truncated, so as to serve as a generous example:

 – Our malicious treatment of animals and their habitats.

This statement has a validity that I, nonetheless, view as problematic. I aim not to defend or reject the accusatory suggestion or tone – to interpret this statement solely as the presenting of an opinion is to overstate the meaning of adjectives.

More importantly (at least, for the purposes of this post) this statement asks of us a complicity in the cultural disposition it both engenders and ignores. In (pre)supposing that humans are uniquely separated from a natural world which suffers our malignant wrath, we are tempted into distractedly interesting or frustrating discussions about human nature, but do not address the problem presented.

It seems to me the statement can be understood, more directly, as an expression of our sense of isolation within confines of human concocted purposes and constructs. The self-consciousness, and apologetic admission, then also communicates a conceptual coupling of self and technology which stands in for the identity of an entire species.

The human species, self-defined, stands apart. All else is Other. A testament to the still-living legacy of The Church, and Dark Age European thought which now permeate cultures the world round. All the while this extreme uniqueness and absolute autonomy attributed to human earthlings infers quite the opposite. For if we are defined by this special apart-ness then we must recognize ourselves as The Other, en mass.

Human as The Other then exists in it’s other-worldliness, and this usually infers that we are at once omnipotent and powerless. Does it not? Perception of Other is intrinsically comparative; one manner of grouping to another. We can reside among the earth’s critters, we encroach upon and squat in their ecologies, yet we perceive ourselves outcasts from a belonging which all other living things enjoy.

– Our malicious treatment of animals and their habitats.

We can observe our destructive impact, we can sense responsibility and empathize, but do not interpret a personal threat. We are enslaved to habit, impulse, and mysterious drives over which we have no influence. We might even list some of the more worldly reasons for our sense of impotency – whether seen as too systemically and/or individually costly, referring to societal dependency, or citing elite interests. As correct as it is to cite punitive consequences, these are narratives that carry forward a cultural style of understanding and envisioning the plight of a society.

Every narrative contains traces of fact and fiction. The truer purpose a narrative serves is an issue pertaining to interpretation (of the intended framing, mutual  circumstance, and social occasion, for example). We are generally more radically accepting or unforgiving where authority has been inscribed upon the narrator. We are more inclined to empathize, than to scrutinize, where the narrative fulfills interpersonal needs. In any case, there are multiple layers to the meanings narrative We are simple-minded enough to think that if we were saying something we would use words. We are rather doing something. - John Cageprovides us. Sometimes we can locate reference to narrative even where exchanges are gestural, performative, or seemingly nonsensical.

While narrative isn’t always literary, we certainly borrow from the structure of written forms. We frequently funnel personal expression through a third person analogy, quote, cliché, byline, or lyric. We even adopt specialized occupational vernaculars, by way of exposure and familiarity, in order to express feeling and convey experience. These are learned and acculturating skills provided us by a capacity for imitation, additionally facilitated by habitual use of various tools (from the clay tablet to the computer, for example). We intuit group relations from within a plane of super-structural stratification and forces which also succeed in shaping cultural understandings and expectations. Aside colloquialism, bodily gesture, energetic expression, tone and intonation etc.; many layers of influences and motivations furnish us with the meaning of what is said.

A super-structural culture is woven by the tension of didactic and existential, interpretative and embodied histories. Each imposed upon, inserted into, absorbed, and amended by one another. The steeper the hierarchy and the larger the scale, the more necessary political premeditation and deliberation becomes. For example: Debates in the U.S. surrounding climate change ingurgitated and transformed  discussion surrounding biodiversity and environmental degradation. This is indicative of much larger struggle for narrative predominance. The purpose of this internationally publicized debate is to confound and refashion the focus of discussion. Power brokers constituting select pairs of contradictions bracket a mutually acceptable locus for potential synthesis. A transcendent territoriality of thought marks the chimeric Nation State as the enchanted successor of Church governed feudalism.

In general, narrative should be understood as a valuable creative strategy. In the West, Rational Man still defers the meaning of experience to a process of radical reduction with a penchant for ideal justification. Interpreting our selves and the world solely as a collection of empirical data is equally dishonest. Or in any case, mistaking a result for causality, prescience for proof, and the idiosyncrasies of instrumentation for an attribute of the reality they serve to explore. These are among many means of divining some or another comprehension of ourselves and the world. Useful, insightful, compelling, provocative, but as vulnerable to fictional innovation as any style or method of reasoning.

– Our malicious treatment of animals and their habitats.

When we treat these sensibilities and methodologies as dogmatic tenets of our cultural lives, we absolve ourselves of embodied awarenesses. We abdicate a belonging in the broader ecology.

In such case, the germane content of a habitation related question or problem is just as likely to remain buried beneath a mound of strung-together signifiers, which may or may not resonate. It’s as if we still await that magical instant when every result will harmonize and divulge the Truth. Is this the degree to which we mistrust, and habitually subjugate, our selves to The Word?

This exemplifies the communicative value of words. This is why the meanings we endow words with matter.

In the mutually affirming context of humans as The Other, the heaving and piling of these mounds are by no means benign. At risk of over-emphasizing the veritable possibility of a metaphor: The human animal has been buried alive.


The Ape That Took Over The World (BBC) in four short parts:

A talk by Professor Sapolsky (Stanford University) starts at 5 minutes. Or view a queued version on TED:


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