Is the Species to Blame, or the Culture? (Does It Matter?)

This, from a comment by someone named Gail on this post: On the Acceptance of Near-Term Extinction.

“It is not our species that is fatally flawed, but our culture.”

If not our species, WHO, exactly, made the culture? Who buys into it and perpetuates it? Why has the outcome, after generations of widely disparate cultures and economic systems, no matter what corner of the world, ultimately been identical – overshoot?

It’s no suprise that in order to support this concept, you are relying on “best stories” to bolster the idea that humans are innately benign, because as Daniel and I have been pointing out, actual evidence says otherwise. The overwhelming archaeological and anthropological record says that whether organized into small tribes or empires, humans destroy their resource base and then fight with their neighbors. Anyone can dispute this based on religion, faith, stories, feelings, opinions or beliefs. But if you pick up an authoritative book that cites physical realities, it’s a construct that falls apart.

But why should pesky facts get in the way of the narratives we prefer? (Parenthetically I’d like to point out that there are at least as many compelling myths that don’t end so hopefully – Icarus comes to mind first.)

This accusation takes many forms (Pleistocene Overkill being a now famous one) and is at its core a very serious indictment, although I’m not sure if it matters whether or not it’s true. If all human cultures expedite overshoot, then we might as well party. Maybe that sounds like a sensible Ecclesiastian attitude. But maybe a better way to look at things is with nuance: certain cultures bring their proponents to overshoot faster than others. It only appears that all cultures converge on overshoot when we look around now because our culture (the “West,” or industrial capitalism, or any culture that converts living things into objects) has brought all living systems to the brink simultaneously, while setting feedback loops in motion that are now irreversible. We’re bringing the whole thing down with us, so it seems like there’s never been a solution because there certainly aren’t any at the moment.

But even if one does think that all human groups ultimately destroy ecosystems and end in overshoot, surely a solidarity with other living beings (who didn’t cause this mess) would lead one to help out, even in small ways. So even if you resign yourself to thinking that if any humans do survive the crash, they’ll just start the chain in motion that will cause the next one, you could lend a hand to any number of currently oppressed and exploited lifeforms without giving a shit about the humans, right? Categorically condeming humans to overshoot should not be a cop-out. Trees still need your help. Oceans still need your help. Bees still need your help. As a doomer I realize that it’s hard to stave off that ever-growing flood of misanthropy, but to sit around while other animals suffer at the hands of humans, just because humans cannot avoid being destructive (if you believe that)–well how selfish is that?


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