Saturday, September 24, 2005

Column on Back to the Toads?

[Please proof read my column before using it.]

Back to the Toads?

Tibor R. Machan

Is it the toads? Maybe this time around it is hazards to some other
critter that prompts the rangers on California?s Silverado Canyon Road,
near where I live, to bar entry to the forest, by the gate. They have the
sign up, no apologies thank you, saying ?Gate Closed 5 miles Ahead.?

Each time I drive by the sign I am inclined to stop and ask the rangers
by whose moral authority they bar us from the forest, given that it is
maintained at taxpayers? expense, which also pays for their services. (I
know, of course, they have some laws backing them, but laws, as history
teaches us, can be very unjust.) Who are these people who believe so
firmly that they have the moral?and should keep the legal?authority to bar
us all from the wilds of Orange County?

At one time, as I recall, it was because some specie of toad which now
and then?actually very rarely?crossed the dirt road up there, and this
supposedly authorized those in charge to keep all human beings away. Why?
So the toad didn?t have to face the hazard of a hiker?s boots or, heaven
help us, a Jeep?s tires. So what? After all, these critters face hazards
from other critters and from the elements all the time?indeed, this has
been their lot from time immemorial. It is how nature is?some living
things live at the expense of some others.

No one seems to mind when one animal feeds off another, or off the
vegetation, thereby destroying these. It is understood to be how the world
works thereabouts, so why when people get into the picture is it supposed
to be forbidden?

My suspicion is that there?s just altogether too much misanthropy afoot
among people attracted to environmentalism. They don?t like, maybe even
hate, human beings?perhaps starting with themselves?so much so that some
of them are calling for humanity?s outright destruction. As David M.
Graber said, in his review of Bill McKibben?s The End of Nature, ?Until
such time as Homo sapiens should decide to rejoin nature, some of us can
only hope for the right virus to come along? (from The Los Angeles Times
Book Review, October 22, 1989, p. 9).

Notice how this remark assumes that people aren?t part of nature. But
that is entirely off the wall. People and their developments, bridges,
parking lots, museums, concert halls, SUVs and all the rest are every bit
as much part of nature as are the tunnels built by termites, dams by
beavers, or nests by birds.

What may be true, but entirely irrelevant, is that human beings are not
normally part of the wilds, that what they bring into nature is a very
creative capacity. But there is some of that within the rest of the animal
world as well?some birds, it appears now, sing just for the hell of it,
not because it serves some utilitarian function. And there is word from
research on great apes that they, too, develop various cultural artifacts,
such as games.

Now it is also true that human beings have the unique, so far unmatched
capacity, to mess things up. They are, unlike other animals, not hard
wired to carry on properly, on the whole. So they need to be criticized
and sometimes set right, including in how they comport themselves toward
the wilds.

Yet, to tell just what they do wrong and how to do things right,
standards are required and what environmentalists offer along these lines
is mostly incoherent. They seem to want for us all to ignore what benefits
human beings and only concern ourselves with non-human life. Why? What
could be the reason if not a deep seated misanthropy?

As to the toad or any other critters, let them fend for themselves, just
as they have done for millions of years before people showed up on earth.
And we, in turn, should focus on what truly enhances our lives. If that
includes caring more about other animals than we now do, so be it. But
here there is at least a source of some workable standards?our own lives
and flourishing can be our priority, just as, by the way, the lives and
flourishing of other animals is theirs, only in a hardwired way, not by
conscious choice.

What is really ironic is that in their enthusiasm for the wilds, many
environmentalists betray their own human nature by turning against
themselves, namely, people. Given that no other animals follow suit, they
ought to revise their attitude and become more pro human.

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