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All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.

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Jun 08, 2016

Human Lives Are Not More Important Than Animal Lives

Captain Paul Watson, environmental activist and founder of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society explains interdependence of species and why a biocentric approach is what the world needs.

WRITTEN BY

Paul Watson

Is a human life worth more than a gorilla, a whale or any other species?

I’m going to tread on some very sensitive toes with this commentary but I think it needs to be said.

My perspective is biocentric, whereas most of humanity looks on reality from an anthropocentric point of view. I do not expect the anthropocentric mind to understand my position. My position is that a human life is not more important than the life of a gorilla or a whale.

This is is going to make some people angry as hell, but that does not concern me. What concerns me is the reality of our relationship with the natural world.

Columnist Dave Bry recently wrote in The Guardian:

As much as I love animals – and I love them very much – the idea that the life of a cat or a dog or a lion or a gorilla is as important as the life of a human is a terrible one, a wrong one, an insulting one. [There] are powerful, important things about being a human being … Yes, I would save the life of Ted Kaczynski, Idi Amin or Donald Trump over any animal you could name. (Yes, even my beloved childhood pets: the cats Love and Honey, the dog, Yvette. Sorry, guys, RIP.)

Personally I think this statement by Bry is asinine, insensitive and absurd. Idi Amin was a mass murderer. His life was not worth the life of a mosquito and if someone had shot the bastard, thousands of people’s lives would have been spared not to mention the slaughter of African wildlife under his authority. Would Bry say the same about Hitler, and if not, why not, how is he any different than a mass murdering dictator like Idi Amin? So I think Brys’ position has not been thought out, and if it has, it is he who holds a terrible idea with a wrong position and insulting to every person who was slaughtered in WWII or in Africa under Amin. Bry is saying his cats and his dog are expendable but a vicious dictator is not, simply on the basis of being a member of the human species.

The reality is that some human lives are simply not worth more than other humans and also not more important than many animals.

A few years ago when I was teaching at UCLA I asked my students this question:

If you had to choose between a human life and the survival of an unknown species, what choice would you make? And to make the question a little easier for them, I said the human life is a cute little baby and the species is a type of bacteria.

“So,” I said, “Does the baby live in exchange for the eradication of the species or do we save the species and allow the baby to die?”

They answered without hesitation and chose the life of the baby.

“What if I ask you to save 200 species of unknown bacteria in exchange for the baby?”

Again they chose the baby.

“Can anyone tell me why you made that choice?” I inquired.

“Because human lives are more important.” One student answered. Another said, “The life of a baby is more important than some germs, how could you even ask such a thing?” she said with a look of disgust.

“Congratulations everyone,” I said. “Your choice just caused the extinction of the human race.”

This is because there are anywhere from 700 to 1,000 different species of bacteria residing in the human gut and without them, we could not digest our food or manufacture vitamins for our bodies.

This was part of a lesson I was trying to teach on the law of interdependence, that all species need each other and without some species, we cannot survive.

Are phytoplankton and zooplankton less important than human lives? If it was a choice between diminishing human numbers and diminishing worldwide populations of phytoplankton what choice would we make?

Again I put the question forth, this time to some die-hard anti-abortionists. If the choice is between forcefully preventing abortions and allowing the births of millions of unwanted babies or watching the disappearance of phytoplankton, what choice would you make?

They said that the lives of the babies were more important even if it meant the babies would not be properly cared for, nurtured, educated and loved.

One person asked me what phytoplankton was?

Photo: Sailors for the Sea
Phytoplankton. Photo courtesy of Sailors for the Sea

“It’s a tiny marine plant,” I answered.

“You mean like seaweed?”

“Yes but much smaller.”

“So you’re saying that seaweed is more important than babies?” The man asked with a look of disgust on his face.

“Yes, that’s what I am saying.” I answered.

“You’re a sick man,” he literally shouted at me.

And of course he was not interested in my explanation.

And the truth is that we have already made that choice to eradicate phytoplankton in exchange for increasing human populations.

Since 1950, the Ocean has suffered a 40% decline in phytoplankton populations and phytoplankton produces over 50% of the oxygen for the planet.

This is a serious problem but one which most people remain blissfully ignorant of.

Phytoplankton has been diminished because of pollution, climate change, acidification and the slaughter of the whales.

Why the whales?

Because whales provide the nutrients essential for the growth of phytoplankton, especially iron and nitrogen. These nutrients are spread to the phytoplankton in the form of whale feces similar to a farmer spreading manure on his crops. A single Blue whale defecates three tons a day of nutrient rich fecal material which makes the whales the farmers of the sea and a key species for the survival of phytoplankton.

Diminishment of whales means diminishment of phytoplankton means diminishment of oxygen.

There are many species much more important that we are. Bees and worms, trees and plankton, fish, ants and spiders, bacteria, whales and elephants amongst many others.

They are more important for a very simple reason. Most of them can live quite happily without humans but humans cannot live without them. A world without bees and worms would be a world where we could not feed ourselves. A world without phytoplankton and trees would be a world where we could not breathe. A world without yeast (an animal) would be a world without beer and wine which I mention only because this is a loss that may get some people’s attention.
Nature has three very basic ecological laws. 1. Diversity, meaning that the strength of an eco-system is determined by the diversity within it. 2. Interdependence, meaning that the species within an eco-system are dependent upon each other and 3. Finite resources, meaning that there is a limit to growth, a limit to carrying capacity.

As human populations grow larger they literally steal carrying capacity from other species, leading to diminishment of other species which leads to diminishment of diversity and diminishment of interdependence.

In other words, no species is an island entire unto itself and that includes our own human species.

Humans have created a fantasy world called anthropocentrism, the idea that all of reality, all of nature exists only for humanity, that we are the only species that matters and human rights take priority over the rights of all other species.

In other words we look upon ourselves as divinely created superior beings when in reality we are simply overly conceited arrogant, ecologically ignorant, naked apes who have become divine legends in our own limited minds.

This anthropocentric view of the world has made us selfish, self-centred and extremely destructive to all other forms of life on the planet including our own. Our fantasies have allowed us to destroy the very life support systems that sustain us, to poison the waters we drink and the food we eat, to amuse ourselves with blood sports and to eradicate anything and everything we do not like, be it animal, plant or other human beings. We demonize each other and we demonize the entire living world.

This fantasy world we have invented has witnessed our creation of Gods out of whose mouths we can give voice to our fantasies with the moral authority to justify our destructive behaviour.

Over the years I have risked my life and my crews have risked their lives to protect whales and seals, sharks and fish. I am often asked how can I ask people to risk their lives for a whale?

Very easy, is my answer because fighting for the survival of whales or fish means fighting for our own future.

The mystery however to me is how people can question risking our lives for a whale yet accept that young people are routinely asked to risk their lives for real estate, oil wells, religion and for a coloured piece a cloth they call a flag.

Apparently risking their lives to protect property is acceptable whereas taking risks to defend non-human lives is not.

This was very neatly summed up once by a ranger in Zimbabwe who was attacked by human rights groups after killing a poacher who was about to kill an endangered Black rhino.

The accusation was, how could you take the life of a human being to protect an animal?

His answer revealed the hypocrisy of human values. He said, “If I was a policeman in Harare and a man ran out of a bank with a bag of money and I shot him dead on the street, I would be called a hero and given a medal. My job is to protect the future heritage of Zimbabwe and how is it that an endangered species has less value than a bag of paper?”

Humanity slaughters some 65 billion animals every year for meat and takes even greater numbers of lives from the sea, much of which is discarded callously as by-catch. We kill animals for fun or because we consider them to be pests. There has never been a species as mercilessly destructive as the human primate. We kill wilfully, viciously and relentlessly and we do so because we feel entitled to do so.

Anthropocentrism is an incredibly delusional conceit by a single species to lift ourselves above in value and importance over all other living things.

Humanity is so entrenched in this view of the world that we have stifled all empathy to the feelings and interests of all other species. We view them as expendable, as property, as nuisances, as sources of amusement, as slaves.

In an anthropocentric world only humans matter and this has absurdly led to beliefs that this entire planet was created just for us, that we are the pinnacle of evolution and the masters of the universe.

Every single anthropocentric religion places human beings at the centre of everything and above all other species. We have fashioned God in our image in order to justify our superiority and woe be it to any one of that questions this fantasy.

Anthropocentrism is a form of ecological insanity and is leading us towards self destruction, because only so many species can be removed before the laws of diversity, interdependence and finite growth lead to our own extinction.

Are humans the most intelligent species on the planet? Yes. because we define what intelligence is and therefore declare ourselves to be the most intelligent species. We define ourselves as moral, ethical, benevolent and wise despite the fact that our actions reveal that we are anything but moral, ethical, benevolent and wise.

I would define intelligence as the ability to live in harmony with nature and within the boundaries of ecological laws. We wilfully ignore that dolphins and whales have larger more complex brains and we dismiss any speculation that animals think, make choices, dream and have emotions. We also dismiss the reality that trees communicate through chemicals and fungal networks. We pride ourselves on our art, our science, our religions, our politics, our cultures and totally reject that other species have their own cultures, their own realities completely independent of our hominid vanities.

Recently a 17-year old gorilla named Harambe was shot dead because zoo-keepers determined that he was a threat to the life of a four year old child despite the indications that the gorilla was actually attempting to protect the child.

The primary justification was that the life of a gorilla is of less value than the life of a human child and thus expendable without hesitation.

Never mind that in two previous incidents, one in Chicago and another on the island of Jersey a child’s life was saved by a captive gorilla.

Levan Merritt after he tumbled 12 feet into the gorilla enclosure at Jersey Zoo, falling unconscious before being saved by Jambo the silverback gorilla. Photo courtesy of Big Wave Productions
Levan Merritt after he tumbled 12 feet into the gorilla enclosure at Jersey Zoo, falling unconscious before being saved by Jambo the silverback gorilla. Photo courtesy of Big Wave Productions

The Cincinnati zoo was most likely motivated by the threat of a lawsuit unless they shot Harambe and ended the drama with a bullet to the head of a sentient being that although confused and disoriented was displaying real concern for the child that fell into his prison cell.

Very few thought of the trauma this would cause to the other gorillas or the fact that the killing was a horrific betrayal to the good intentions of Harambe. After all he was just an animal and no animal is worth the life of a single human.

Instead of acknowledging that her child was not hurt by Harambe, the mother of the child thanked God for the child not being hurt with the assumption being that her God could not have cared less about a gorilla. Harambe and the child were together for ten minutes before Harambe was murdered.

There are 7.5 billion of us and every year there are fewer and fewer of everything else except for the slaves we breed for food and amusement.

Gorillas do not contribute to climate change, to pollution of the ocean to deforestation, to war and habitat destruction. They are gentle, vegetarian, shy, and intelligent self-aware sentient beings whose existence benefits the planet and gives hope for the future.

What human being can equal a gorilla for the virtues of harmlessness, sustainable living, peacefulness and ecological intelligence?

Not one of us. So in my opinion the life of a gorilla is not only of more value than the life of a human being, it is a hundred times more valuable, as are whales, and snails, bees and trees.

Why? Because we cannot live on this planet without them.

Read next: ‘Exposed: Inside The Mind of A Lion Murderer’ by psychologist Alexander Anghelou, on what drives some people to pursue trophy hunting.

This article was originally published as a Facebook post on Captain Paul Watson’s page

Feature Image © Meesha Holley (Amphiprion Perideraion also known as the Pink Skunk Clownfish, spotted at a diving spot off the coast of Koh Tao, Thailand. The sea anemone and clownfish share a mutualistic symbiotic relationship. Sea anemones provide a safe and ideal home for clownfish, and in return, clownfish keep sea anemones clean, provide nutrients from its waste and help catch prey).

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Athletes & Explorers

Jun 19, 2019

REWILD with Tony Riddle: Part 2 – Children and Education

Tony Riddle explains how our educational system must be reinvented to better preserve childrens' innate abilities and uniqueness.

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WRITTEN BY

Davey Braun

In our latest series called REWILD with Tony Riddle, The Outdoor Journal has been speaking with Tony about his paradigm-shifting approach to living a natural lifestyle that’s more in line with our DNA than Western society’s delerious social norms. In Part 1, we introduced how Tony is leading a rewilding movement through his coaching practices as well as his commitment to run 874 miles barefoot across the entire UK to raise awareness for sustainability.

In this installment, Tony discusses society’s disconnect from our ancestral hunter-gather lifestyle, the need to completely reinvent the education system, and how to preserve children’s innate abilities.

REWILD

TOJ: When I see the word “rewilding,” I picture the opening scene of the movie Last of the Mohicans where Daniel Day-Lewis is sprinting and leaping through the woods on an elk hunt. Is that how humans are supposed to be, an athletic animal in tune with nature?

Tony Riddle: In modern society, we’re basically living in these linear boxes, breathing in the same air, getting the same microbiome experience, sleeping in the same room over and over, and nothing alters. Whereas the tribal cultures that we came from are moving through a landscape that’s forever changing. They’re always uploading new sensory pathways, new sensory experiences, constantly in a state of wiring and rewiring the brain. For me, the path of rewilding is getting back to that – being present in nature and honoring a cellular system, a sensory system and a microbiome system in their natural setting.

When you start to really assess it, some people have this vision of hunter-gatherers as savages, but these are sophisticated beings, and as they move through the landscape, they become the landscape.

By “Rewilding” we can get back to a lifestyle that’s more in line with our innate human biology.

Tribespeople operate in these states of meditation which, when you have kids you appreciate it. I’ve studied childhood behavior in the formative years, those first years up until the age of seven. The brain is working at a certain hertz that you and I can only achieve through meditation. This is the state of Flow. It hasn’t been cultured or schooled out of them.

When I think of “rewilding” now I have a term I’m calling “rechilding.” We’ve got to try and get back to that level of frequency that tribes have managed to stretch into adulthood. I’ve tried to break down the behaviors of these tribes. I discovered Peter Gray’s work, who asked the question to 10 leading anthropologists, “What does childhood look like in nature?” From infancy through the age of 16, children play. That’s all they do, without any adult intervention, and they learn everything they need to learn about their adult environment in those first playful years. So if that’s the case, then they go into adulthood still playing and they don’t have to work to find flow states through that field of senses and the frequency that they’ve been operating in.

PLAY

TOJ: In familiarizing myself with your work, I noticed that some elements are about reverse engineering the range of motion, movement chains and posture of our own selves as children, while others focus on reconnecting with a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, how do you reconcile those concepts?

“For children, it’s about preserving their wildness and their innate abilities.”

Tony Riddle: For children, it’s about preserving their wildness and their innate abilities, the stuff that you and I would have had but we went through an educational process where it’s not appropriate to move or say anything out of turn, where children are expected to just sit still in a classroom for hours on end and not share anything. But then you realize that when you go out into the world that you have to share everything, We need to show them the appropriate behaviors and not dumb them down by limiting their experience.

Tony spending time climbing trees with his children to preserve their innate ability to climb and balance.

In those early years, we have things like physical education, but before physical education, we have play. We were all playing around, trying to understand the physicality of our body. We’re born with all the gear, we just have no idea how to use it, because our adult species doesn’t know how to demonstrate the appropriate behavior. When we go through the playful state to try to understand this system as children, we might impersonate all the animals, but now as adults, we have to go to animal flow class to relearn it.

When children go to physical education class, they’re given specialist clothing, which includes sneakers and the specialist clothes that their adult species wear. The adults model to children how tough exercise is and how brutal it is. Adults come back profusely sweating, which is absurd because imagine the hostile environments that this species has had to traverse! My DNA goes back 270,000 years to a tribe in East Africa. So imagine how hostile these environments would have been!

“Imagine the hostile environments that this species has had to traverse!”

We observe these parkour kids, they’re showing us what’s innately in us. I love hanging out with them because it’s just expanded my mind and my movement. The physicality of the human being is unbelievable, but it’s been cultured into a sedentary position at this stage because the adult population is showing a compromised, sedentary lifestyle. By the time a child reaches the age of seven, all of the observations are made – the templates for the rest of their lives. So if the adult species is compromised, then within those first six years, that’s all the child will recognize as their potential range of behavior. I call it their “Tribe of Influence.” The tribe of influence is made up of your family, your friends and your close community around you. If you’re observing all their behaviors, that just becomes your social core. It doesn’t mean it’s biologically normal, it’s just the social norm. And social norms of today are so far afield, we are doing the most horrendous things. I read a stat yesterday, since 1970, 60% of the wild animal populations are gone. We’ve managed to do that in 50 years. That’s less than one human life span. Our social norms are compromising the planet.

Read next on TOJ: Tony Riddle: Introducing REWILD

REMEMBER YOUR PAST

There’s a great term I’m plugging the moment which Peter Kahn called “environmental generational amnesia.” Every generation that’s born, it can either expand on the knowledge passed down from before, or be dumbed down further, and it only remembers where it left off. So for those 60 percent of the species that are gone, to the new generation that comes in, that’s their new norm.

“It doesn’t mean it’s biologically normal, it’s just the social norm.”

The natural human pathways from our previous generations have been forgotten in a way, but movement is just a component of it for me. It goes beyond movement. There’s a whole physical, social and spiritual animal that needs rewilding. There’s also sleep and play and nutrition and human contact, even sunlight. We’re just disconnected.

Tony regularly plunges his body into icy water to maintain proper cardiovascular health.

We have a D3 issue with our culture now. We’re surrounded by artificial light in artificial environments, but when we do go out in the actual environment, we cover up by wearing sunglasses, so we’re not actually absorbing any of the nutrients from the sun that we should be. Especially in the UK, people are starved of sunlight, but as soon as the sun is out, they’re wearing sunglasses. If you look at helio-therapy, the highest absorption of D3 is around the eyes. There was a study recognizing that sun exposure helped kids with TB recover, but it also found that when they put sunglasses on, they didn’t get the results.

REINVENT EDUCATION

TOJ: If you were the superintendent of a school, what changes would you make if you are in charge?

“The educational system has to be scrunched up, thrown in a bin and restarted again.”

Tony Riddle: It’s almost like the educational system has to be scrunched up, thrown in a bin and restarted again. It’s flawed and it’s not working. In countries that are trying to do something about it, in particular, Finland in Scandinavia, it’s completely different. People are starting to wake up to the fact that it’s not biologically normal to be indoors all day, it’s not biologically normal to sit down all day, it’s not biologically normal to eat processed foods. But, that’s the environment where we’re growing these young bodies and minds.

The future is unraveling at such a rapid rate with tech. My understanding is, the current iteration of the educational system will have to die because of the way that the tech world is transforming things. So what can we possibly take from the educational model of today for five years time or 10 years time, where are we actually going to be in terms of the evolution of tech?

Like father like daughter, training their hanging L-sits on the olympic rings.

There’s almost like a natural pendulum. It’s swinging way back over this way. Now we’ll start to explore more biologically normal ways. With my barefoot run, I’m trying to raise awareness of these issues like sustainability in the environment and I can reach a wide audience through technology.

“It comes down to small changes.”

It comes down to small changes. You can drive yourself nuts thinking, “I’ve got to do this and do this…”, but actually, there’s value in just assessing things that are in your hands, looking at what is a biological norm versus a biological extreme. If you can’t justify something, you have to let it go. Then, what you can start to do is whittle away at things that aren’t appropriate behaviors and that will improve in the next generation that is observing those behaviors.

You and I are walking around with the observations from those first six years of our lives, and then if you really unravel it, we’re walking around with the norms of our ancestors as well.

We need a different educational model. We need a schooling system based on educating kids about their fundamental needs, including movement and play, one that gets them involved in growing natural foods and learning about their own independent role within the interdependent social tribe.

We’re all unique, but we go to school and we’re taught to conform. You have to sit and do the same exams, but in a real tribal situation, there’s an interdependence of the tribe, When you have kids, you suddenly realize how important it is. I’ve got three kids and another one on the way. They’re all different. Nature didn’t design them to be the same. They’re designed to be uniquely different so they fulfill their role in our tribe. Why not nurture the fact that they are different in order to grow their individual talents at a very young age. How do I nurture their unique abilities and create the appropriate environment for them to learn and become uniquely awesome?

Tony’s coaching is individually tailored based upon the belief that we all have a unique role to play in our community.

Stay tuned for our REWILD series featuring an in-depth discussion of Tony Riddle’s socially extreme, yet biologically normal practices.

Part 1, Tony Riddle: Introducing REWILD
Part 2, REWILD with Tony Riddle: Children and Education
Part 3, REWILD with Tony Riddle: Transforming Your Body
Part 4, REWILD with Tony Riddle: Barefoot Running Across Great Britain

To connect with Tony, visit tonyriddle.com

Facebook: @naturallifestylist
Instagram: @thenaturallifestylist
Twitter: @feedthehuman
Youtube: Tony Riddle

Feature Image: Tony’s daughter working on her grip strength in Tony’s studio.

Introducing The Outdoor Voyage

The Outdoor Voyage booking platform and online marketplace only lists good operators, who care for sustainability, the environment and immersive, authentic experiences. All listed prices are agreed directly with the operator, and we promise that 86% of any money spent ends up supporting the local community that you’re visiting. Click the image below to find out more.

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