We humans are at a critical place in our journey as a species with respect to our relationship with the world around us. In my life I have seen numerous examples where human existence is reduced to just that – human existence, with the underlying belief that our survival is the most important thing at the expense of pretty much everything else.
Asgard is a people, not a place…?
I confess to being a Marvel Studios junkie. I have seen all the Marvel movies produced over the last decade or more, and love all of them. The other night I saw Thor Ragnarock for the third time (junkie, remember?), and was suddenly struck by the assertion that Asgard is not a place, it’s a people, so buggering off with your humanoid population in a stolen spaceship while the rest of your home planet dissolves in flame is a perfectly acceptable solution to an Armageddon equivalent. It suddenly occurred to me to ask myself (and remember, this is the third time I see this film) how the Asgardians survived on their home planet, if not through a symbiotic relationship with other living things? They ate grapes, for example. Someone had to grow or find them, somewhere. I assume they ate meat (I can’t imagine Thor being vegan, but who knows?), and meat comes from some other living thing. Is the food source any less Asgardian than the humanoid? So I bring this up to my family, and my husband says “Well, what can you expect from a bunch of flat-earthers?” He’s a funny man, bless him.
Humans above all else is a problem
Back to the real world, this is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. We humans have a seriously over-inflated collective ego. We think we’re the best, the most important, and the only relevant species on the planet. I’m coming to the realization that if we don’t want to end up like the Asgardians (and some people are already thinking of bailing to Mars), we have to get our heads out of our asses and start looking around us. We do not exist in isolation. Every single thing we do is intricately connected to some other non-human living thing. As a species, we may be at the top of the food chain, but we need everything below us if we are to survive. And besides, does being at the top really give you the right to rule with such a heavy hand? In the Marvel world, we call those kinds of people villains. Go figure.
In a recent visit to Vancouver Island to visit my parents, the subject of coexistence came up numerous times, mostly in the context of how humans suck at it. If something gets in our way, we eliminate it. But if it appeals to us for whatever reason, it serves some purpose for us so we keep it around. So one community rallies to preserve a patch of old growth forest in their neighbourhood, while a few kilometres away there is yet another mass clearing of newer forest to build homes for people to live in between their visits to the patch of 800 year old trees. We cull the Canada Geese because they are pests, but up the road at the wildlife rehabilitation centre, we nurse eagles and ravens back to health. And God forbid if you allow your dog to chase the cherished flocks of Brandt Geese arriving for their annual fuel-up of herring.
I understand and respect that there are groups of humans out there who discuss these issues with far more knowledge about them than I have. They make the best informed decisions they can. But it just strikes me that somehow the right balance of numbers of other creatures comes down to what suits us. Furthermore, no one dares look at our own numbers, or thinks about culling us. That would be – no, has been – frowned upon.
I have no answers, but I think that’s the point: we are deluding ourselves if we think we have it all figured out. We can make decisions, but we have to keep asking the hard questions, be willing to find out we were wrong, and adjust accordingly.
Survival at the cost of … survival
I recognize that not everyone sees the world this way, and many don’t want to. It’s painful to look at the absurdity of life and feel powerless to do anything about it. It’s impossible to find total solutions, because every solution presents a new problem. It’s overwhelming, and we prefer to go back to our Facebook feeds or video games. And who am I to judge? I escape to the Marvel universe all the time, at least on the big screen, where the hero always wins. But at what cost do I escape, and at what cost does the hero win?
I don’t know why our interdependent existence isn’t obvious to more people. In politics and government, we treat “the environment” as one of many issues, and give it a respective priority when we vote. When are we, as a species, going to wake up to the reality that without an environment, we are pretty much adrift in space, cold and … dead? And what is our “environment”, anyway, and why are we the only species on the planet entitled to it? Our proprietary attitude toward the planet doesn’t even make logical sense to me. The environment we live in is made up of countless other living things – things we depend on to survive. If we don’t take care of the things that take care of us, the obvious result is annihilation, is it not? Except for the lucky few that manage to escape on a spaceship, I suppose.
We are not alone
I am not advocating for anything, really, except that maybe we stop and think a little more often. Life is unfair, death is a part of life, and species come and go. But when are we, as humans, going to start thinking of ourselves as part of something bigger than just us? From the microbial ecosystem that lives in and on each of our bodies, to the food we eat and the air we breathe, we simply do not exist in isolation. We are not alone. This does not mean we’re not important or worth preserving. On the contrary – and here I go Marvel geek again – with great power comes great responsibility. Our responsibility is not just to ourselves, but to everything that keeps us alive. It seems to me we need to find a better way to coexist with everything we depend on. It seems our survival depends on it.