Like all sane people in the world, I have recently been enjoying Planet Earth 2, David Attenborough’s new and amazing nature documentary. I love most programmes about nature because the things we share a planet with are fascinating to me, as is evolution and thinking about my own eventual death. (I definitely don’t want my ashes thrown in the ocean because the bottom of the ocean is the most horrifying place ever, in case you were wondering.)
Nature documentaries usually show animals hunting each other, because when you’re an animal, finding food is basically all you have to do everyday. And not like “My only challenge today is deciding what to order at The Cheesecake Factory WHY IS THEIR MENU SO EXTENSIVE DON’T THEY KNOW HUMANS ARE HAPPIER WHEN THEY HAVE FEWER CHOICES?” It’s completely brutal—yesterday I watched a jungle jaguar kill an alligator and then haul its huge carcass off to munch on. This was after Sir David had lulled me into a false sense of viewing security with RIVER DOLPHINS. Effing river dolphins, guys. They were MAGICAL.
We live on a planet where, for most living things, survival means finding other life to consume. If you suck at hunting or there’s not enough food to go around, you die. It’s a dog-eat-dog world, except you can replace the word “dog” with any terrifying creature you like. Some animals aren’t even dead when they get eaten—they’re just eaten alive by something stronger than them. Does that sound hellish to you? Because based on what I learned from The Hunt, IT ABSOLUTELY IS. For most life on Earth, existence is a day-in, day-out battle between them, those trying to kill and eat them, and those they hope they can kill and eat before they starve to death. It’s a 24/7 cycle of mass murder, basically.
And then there’s us—the most highly evolved creature on Earth, capable of building skyscrapers or destroying rainforests full of other creatures that took millions of years to evolve. Food is plentiful for most of us in western societies and we don’t have to kill anything else to survive anymore, but we still do because we earned our place at the top of the food chain, bitches! I’m lying—you and I just happened to be born into privilege only the luckiest billionth of a percentage point* of living creatures have ever enjoyed. Even among all the humans that have ever existed, I am supremely lucky. Among all the women that have ever existed? Even luckier. But among all the animals (because that’s what we are) that have ever existed, I am so insanely lucky I’ve almost defied statistics.
*Not an actual statistic
If Earth is a hellscape of eating others and being eaten, we post-scarcity humans are in heaven. Though we sure do a good job perpetuating—even worsening—hell for other creatures. Yesterday I thought of the cows that graze all day in Devon, England, a place I’ve loved visiting since childhood. These cows have a very easy life of eating grass and roaming around the Devon hills. Some of them are milked, but not in a horrific factory-farming kind of way that robs them of their livelihoods. It’s CHILL, you know? (Though I still don’t advocate eating dairy, because it offers you no benefit and may shorten your life and it’s still not ideal for the cows.)
Cows are one of the relatively few species other than humans that don’t need to be a part of the ongoing slaughter most life is fueled by. They can enjoy a plentiful food supply (grass) without all the self-aware crap that comes with being more evolved (love that existential depression), and they’re intelligent enough to find pleasure in things like raising their young. It’s a crying shame that humans continue to trap and kill them for meat and dairy, especially in light of the fact that vegetarians and vegans live longer, livestock production is screwing our planet in a major way, and we know they’re sentient enough to feel intense pain.
The life of a (privileged) human is totally foreign from that of other animals. We can wake up everyday unconcerned with what we’re going to eat, and instead focus on stuff like creating for the sake of creating, meeting fitness goals because we have endless food available and can’t control ourselves, and networking on LinkedIn EVEN THOUGH IT PROVIDES US NO SOCIAL BENEFIT AND IS JUST THE WORST, JOSH. We’re (probably) the only species even capable of fully appreciating all the wonder that’s around us in the form of mountains and rainforests and islands and more, and we still don’t. When finding food ceased being a problem for humans, we were able to expand our minds and invent things that would change the entire landscape of our planet forever, and now it’s like we’ve just switched our minds off.
99 percent of species currently threatened by extinction are at risk from human activities. Even among humans, our actions are destroying the planet in a way that is severely harming the poorest among us, because it’s poorer nations that must bear the brunt of global warming caused primarily by richer countries. Oh, and we’ve just elected a president who thinks climate change is a Chinese hoax. So… it’s not looking great.
Humans are at the top of the food chain. But as we’ve learned from every dictator ever and the Catholic church, power doesn’t equal goodness. Did we really come this far only to neglect the scientific method and endless evidence that we’re f*cking up our planet and the lives of billions of creatures, some of them human? Did we develop all this (CRIPPLING) empathy only to cast it aside when it’s uncomfortable to us, or when we want an 8oz rump that will probably give us erectile dysfunction by 40, men of America? We evolved so far because of our minds, and now we can’t be bothered to use them, or we’re too comfortable to care, or no one’s taught us enough about psychology to understand why we cling so adamantly to our false ideas about the world. Ugh.
Earth is hell, and we made it to heaven—we advanced beyond all the killing and created pizza and friendship bracelets and pianos and stand-up comedy and adorable domestic cats, and now we even have the ability to create new lifeforms (DON’T GET ME STARTED ON ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, I’M TOO AFRAID). We’re essentially gods—or at least the gods of this world. But as it turns out, gods can be the absolute worst.
FUN FACT: It is estimated that for each pound of beef produced, 200 square feet of rainforest is destroyed.
When we think about the type of being (or beings) we want in charge of this planet, I think most of us imagine someone empathetic, kind, and compassionate, who would never voluntarily inflict pain on others. You know, like the millions of gods humans have invented throughout history,
minus all the terrible things they did in their own scriptures or the awful things that were done in their names. In general, good people imagine a god that is good, because that’s what matters to them. But we aren’t like that at all. We put animals through even more torture than they’d experience in the wild, and cause more human suffering than is necessary, all in the name of a meat and dairy industry that is corrupt and harmful. We’re essentially in charge of our planet, and right now we act cold and uncaring toward other living things, human and non-human—making it even more hellish than it is by nature. When the robots take over, they’re going to realize that and MAYBE DESTROY US. So I mean, you should watch Cowspiracy or something, because we have a chance to create heaven and we’re wasting it.
“Maybe life on Earth could be heaven. Doesn’t just the thought of it make it worth a try?” – Bo Burnham