The Ecological Destiny Of Homo Sapiens And Its Successors

346px-Pedigree_of_man_(Haeckel_1874)-300px-wideHumans As Natural

Humans are a natural part of nature and have an ecological purpose. I don’t see any separation between the human and the natural world at least on the macro scale. Humans are part of nature and therefore natural. Those who treat humans and nature as separate are equivalent to those who say that it is not natural for humans to fly because they don’t have wings. In reality humans don’t fly with wings but with their minds.

Assuming that humans evolved on this planet then they arose out of the wider environment and are a fundamental part of it. In this sense they were not artificially placed in it by some extra-terrestrial entity or Divine power. Even if they were this would just imply a broader conception of nature stretching deeper into the visible and indeed invisible universe. But that is probably too deep even for this essay.

Image Above Right: Evolutionary History of Man. Image Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pedigree_of_man_(Haeckel_1874).jpg

The Ecological Purpose of Man

Human beings are the only life form on Earth that is capable of deliberately leaving the environment in which it evolved. It may seem like an ‘out there’ idea but I think if humans have a role in nature it is to export the biosphere to places where it does not exist. If humans are to survive beyond the Earth they will have to take their environment with them. That means learning to understand it with an entirely new level of precision.

The current debate on climate change may ultimately give us the understanding to fulfil such a destiny.

James Lovelock and The Gaia Hypothesis

James Lovelock saw the Earth as a self regulating system, a cybernetic organism in its own right. I see in his concept of Gaia, the global ecosystem is like an overlapping system of systems. However, I don’t think he recognised the ecological destiny or purpose of man. In the chapter on cybernetics in his book Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth he states the following:

“One of the most characteristic properties of all living organisms, from the smallest to the largest, is their capacity to develop, operate, and maintain systems which set a goal and then strive to achieve it through the cybernetic process of trial and error. The discovery of such a system, operating on a global scale and having as its goal the establishment and maintenance of optimum physical and chemical conditions for life, would surely provide us with convincing evidence of Gaia’s existence.”(1)

He did grasp the truth that man could mess the whole thing up and destroy his own environment. If that happened humanity would surely die out and Gaia would simply have another go at evolving a life form that would fill the human ecological niche and go on without us. I think he is right about this.

Humans cannot be allowed to fail their ecological destiny in this way. They certainly need to strive to learn to work with the non human component of nature, learning its inner workings in their entirety in order to eventually fully merge with it.

Anthropogenic Nature and Primeval Nature

I distinguish between two different views of nature, primeval and anthropogenic. What I refer to as primeval nature relates to the view that human beings are somehow above the natural world and separate from it.  What I refer to as anthropogenic nature relates to the idea that human beings are an intrinsic part of nature and have their own ecological purpose.

An interesting article  about vertical farming by A. C. Stark helps me make the point I am trying to make. He talks about how some parts of the environment that we regard as natural are actually massively shaped by man. He sees this as a problem and vertical farming as a potential solution that would allow the countryside to return to its actual natural state.(2)

While I have great respect for his far sighted vision for farming and fully approve of both vertical farming and his desire to return to a more natural environment, I don’t see the fact that nature has been shaped by man as a problem per se.

As I have mentioned earlier I see man as part of nature and something that cannot be separated from it. What man does to the world is natural for good or bad. A volcano destroys but it also creates. Stark seems to want to keep primeval and anthropogenic nature apart whereas I want to create an integrated synthesis. I see such an outcome as both natural and inevitable.

An Evolved State of Nature

I think that vertical farming is one of many technologies that are emerging that will help humankind understand nature with far greater precision and their study should be pursued for their own sake in order to fully understand the natural world. I think the outcome would of course allow vast tracts of the Earth to return to a more primeval state. However, at the same time new forces will inevitably be released by man to modify this primeval state to some degree, not least the technological evolution of the human race itself. However, if man’s understanding of the workings of nature becomes more precise then impacts will be predictable and planned for.

I believe humans, whether naturally evolved or of Divine manufacture, or indeed in the future of human manufacture, will eventually become agents of their own evolution. They will create new life and new life forms from the biological raw material found around them on Earth and perhaps elsewhere. That would certainly move us away from primeval nature, and would perhaps be much resisted, but this would not make it any less natural. This evolved form of Gaia will be what spreads beyond the Earth as humans realise their ecological destiny and intrinsic purpose.

Notes:

(1) James Lovelock (2000). Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth, page 45-46, Oxford University Press.

(2) Vertical Farming: A Huge Piece to a Gigantic Puzzle. A.C. Stark, 11 March 2016.

Advertisements

Harriet Tubman – A Fine Choice For The $20 Bill

Harriet_Tubman_Civil_War_Woodcut-300px-wideI must admit, until this week I had never heard of Harriet Tubman. I am not an American so have a bit of an excuse about not previously knowing anything about the first African American women to appear on a US bank note.

She was born into slavery but after escaping, perhaps motivated by her strong Christian faith, devoted her life to helping others escape and build meaningful lives for themselves. She was later involved in the campaign for women’s sufferage.

I think she is a worthy choice for commemoration on the $20 bill. It is not because she is a woman or that she is an African American, it is because what she did was right. She stood up to tyranny, took personal risks for the sake of others and was unwavering in her cause. Her place on the banknote was earned on pure merit. She is an inspiration to all those who stand up to current vested interests who use their power oppress others.

As a campaigner for women’s suffrgage she is very relevant to the present day where democracy is gradually being subverted under the pressures of globalisation. In America and in countries around the world large corporations can buy politicians via the lobbying process and manipulate opinion via their control of the media. We live in a world of backroom deals and legislation by treaty, a world where the simple vote has become a debased currency. It is a world where currency itself is debased due to the hidden machinations of our system of central banks which often amount to organised officially sanctioned theft (her presence on the $20 bill in this sense is rather ironic).

We live in a world where cherished freedoms are being eroded, the kind of basic freedoms that were hard won by people like Harriet Tubman. Her presence on the $20 bill will be an ever present reminder of the idea that the only antidote to tyranny is eternal vigilance.

Harriet Tubman provides a lesson on how a person from humble origins and limited, or even non-existent means, can achieve great things. She also reminds us that freedom isn’t free and that to be free often requires real effort and sometimes even personal sacrifice.

Touristic Wanderings in the Judaean Wilderness

View from Masada
Above: View from Masada looking back towards the oaisis of Ein Gedi (dark patch on top right) which can be made out in the distance. The Qumran Caves are to be found in the steep cliffs.

Ever since I saw the TV miniseries  staring Peter O’Toole I have been interested in the ancient fortress of Masada. This is the location where Jewish freedom fighters fought bravely though unsuccessfully to reestablish an independent state of Israel.

Their attempt for renewed statehood, well documented by the historian Josephus, was always going to be a Quixotic quest – after all they were going up against a Roman Empire at the peak of its power. The dreams of the Jewish people were of course eventually realised only when another empire, that of the British, finally withdrew from the region.

It was therefore to Masada that my eyes turned when given the opportunity to travel round this ancient and fascinating country during my trip to Jerusalem in December 2008. When the question arose as to where to visit first the answer was clear – Masada. I opted for a trip that took in Masada while also allowing a dip in the Dead Sea.

The Judaean Desert

It was to the harsh crucible of the Judaean wilderness that Christ turned as his destination for meditation and contemplation before he embarked on the final and most critical mission of his life. It was here where he successfully resisted the temptations of the Devil!

This environment was not hostile to me, but it was hauntingly beautiful. After all, I was travelling through this challenging environment in the luxury of an air conditioned coach. If having a great time was to be tempted then I failed the Biblical test! My wanderings in this wilderness were a comfortable and highly enjoyable experience.

You can actually see the unique topography of the Judaean desert from Jerusalem itself as shown at the upper left in the photo below.

Untitled
Above: Jerusalem with the Judaean Desert in the background

Our journey took us across the Kidron Valley, out of Jerusalem and into the Judaean Hills. From here you began your descent below sea level to the lowest land point on earth – the Dead Sea Plain. As you watch the landscape go by your mind takes you back to Biblical times.

Before dropping to the lowest level our journey stopped for a comfort break at a factory shop for Dead Sea products. Christmas was a couple of weeks later so it was an opportunity to get some Christmas presents.

Our route, parallel to the Dead Sea, took us past the Oasis of Ein Gedi. It would have been great to have stopped there to explore but it was not on the itinerary. I would have preferred to have missed the factory shop and used the time at Ein Gedi but it was not to be.

The cliffs above Ein Gedi were where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in the
Qumran Caves. These gave us new insights into Jewish history in the Israel of Biblical times.

Untitled
Above: A glimpse of Ein Gedi

Masada – Redoubt of The Ancient Jewish State

This was where Roman General Lucius Flavius Silva faced off against Elazar Ben-Yair who was leading a Jewish war of independence against the Roman occupation. As the bus turned left to approach Masada you can imagine what was going through the general’s mind in AD 73 as he contemplated what was, to all intents and purposes, an impossible task.

Untitled
Above: Approaching Masada

To get to the top you either walk or you take the cable car – we took the cable car! When you reach the flat summit you turn right from the cable car to enter the remains of the fortified royal palace built between 37-31 BC by the great builder King Herod the Great. It had all the mod cons of the age as the remains of the hypocaust attests.

Masada Ruins
Above: Remains of the Herodian palace (left) and hypocaust (right)

The views out across the Dead Sea are spectacular. You can also see the square outlines of the Roman forts that were used to enforce their siege.

Views from Masada
Above: View towards the Dead Sea (left) and Roman Remains (right)

The impressive ramp created by the Romans to bring up their siege engines and troops is also still visible. You have to take your hat off to the genius of the Roman engineers. It was this ramp that made the impossible possible and finally brought the stand off to a victorious conclusion for Rome.

Untitled
Above: The Ramp That Was Built by Roman Military Engineers During the Siege of Masada

Above: A Documentary About Masada

The Dead Sea – Rest and Recuperation (and wallowing in a mud pit!)

On our return back up the coastal road we made a right turn into a resort on the Dead Sea. Here everyone had the opportunity to do the floating trick and soak up the health enhancing properties of the water. There was also the attraction of the Dead Sea mud.

I don’t usually go for the new man and moisturiser approach to life. However, wallowing in a pit of runny mud looked like it had to makings of a good laugh.

I got really absorbed in the activity, to such an extent that other tourists were taking pictures of me as if I was an employee of the Israel Tourist Board there for their entertainment. It was great fun! After enjoying a second childhood playing in the mud it was time to wash it off by going for a swim and a float. All this amazingly left my skin soft and smooth for weeks.

Wallowing in the Dead Sea Mud 2008
Above: Wallowing in the Mud

Untitled
Above: Floating in the Dead Sea with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan Obscured by Pinkish Haze rising from the water in the Background

As the sun began to go down, earlier than usual due to the shade from the cliffs of this rift valley, we began our journey across the desert back to Jerusalem.

Tales From the Venetian Lagoon

Untitled

Last time I visited Venice I went on a tour that encompassed three of the lagoon’s more interesting outer islands. These are the islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello.

I got a ticket for a tour that took you round these three Islands. This lagoon cruise cast off from the pier adjacent to Rio dei Giardinetti, the gardens next to St Mark’s Square.

Didn’t get much time on each island but did gain a flavour of the lagoon’s huge variety. In this account I will try to convey some of this rich flavour.

Murano – Workers of Glass

Years ago I used to play a computer game called Machiavelli: The Prince. In this game you represented one of the illustrious families of old Venice. You engaged in intrigue and traded, like Marco Polo, with the pre Columbian world. The cargo of choice at the beginning of your path to trading empire fame and fortune was always Venetian glass.

The island of Murano was therefore a priority destination in my expedition across the lagoon. This is where Venetian (Murano) glass is actually made and this was the first island on the tour.

When you disembark in Murano, you are guided to one of the glass making factories only a few steps away from the quay. Here you see the glass being made, feel the heat from the furnaces and look on in wonder at this ancient art.

Murano Glass

You can then buy something at the factory shop and take a short stroll to see a bit of the Island. You can’t see much as the boat will soon leave for the next island. You do get an impression of the place and have laid the foundations for a future more detailed visit.

Murano

Burano – Vivid Colour and Lace

The first thing that strikes you about Burano is the vibrant almost surreal colour. It is a real feast for the eyes and a great place to walk around.

There was an opportunity to be guided round a lace making operation – Burano is famous for its lace. I gave this a miss and concentrated on the place rather than its commercial activities. I don’t have much interest in lace anyway! Managed to see quite a bit of the place before moving on.

Burano

Torcello – Land that Time Forgot

Torcello could almost be described as rural Venice due to its green and unspoiled landscape. It is more like a nature reserve than anything else. It’s hard to grasp this island’s historic significance.

Nevertheless, it was from this humble location that the Serene Republic of Venice began its march to commercial greatness. The refugees who founded Venice settled here to escape the ravages of Atilla the Hun and his hordes who were rampaging down the mainland. These horsemen were effective warriors on dry land but they couldn’t walk on water. The islands of the lagoon provided the perfect refuge where people could escape their wrath.

You disembark on the western side of the island and you are immediately in the Venetian countryside. You follow the canal on its eastward course and enjoy a peaceful stroll. You may be interrupted by the posh tourists who occasionally glide up the canal in their expensive water taxis.

You arrive at the eastern side of the island where the last remnants of the civilisation of old Torcello are located. If you wanted pyramids and hanging gardens then you have come to the wrong place. All that remains is a rather charming Byzantine church, but it is a lovely area to explore.

Torcello

After your visit here you return to the pier and enjoy a relaxing cruise back to Saint Mark’s Square while dreaming about the romance and drama of old Venice.