Something happened yesterday which struck me like a blow to the head. A spooked bear ran by the back of my apartment complex, then up through the abutting woods. I heard its aggressive grunts and loud footfalls through a wide-open back door. I was surprised and impressed because I had not seen or heard a bear up to that point. I walked outside to watch it in the woods. By that time it was about fifty feet in, back to walking slowly and minding it's business.
My next door neighbors wedged themselves in their back doorway, refusing to come out. They told me it could attack me/us/anything it came across. They also told me that it made a mess of their bird feeder the day before. They kept telling me that it could attack me. I dismissed them and for a few minutes watched it saunter through the woods. When I finally went inside I heard other neighbors having a safety talk in the front of the complex. They each admitted in some way that they loved rural Connecticut but being that close to bears was not kosher.
Bears are indeed powerful creatures, and next to humans are the apex predator in this area. But this matter has very little to do with bears. Or nature in any sense.
It has to do with how we perceive, judge, and interact with our environment. The folks in my complex clearly like trees and the sound of birds, but apparently disapprove of larger natural things like coyote and bear. I find the line they drew in the sand very suspect because it shows that they do not take nature on its terms and appreciate it in itself, yet operate on confirmation bias. In other words, they make their experience with nature all about human-pleasure and affirmation.
Just saying human-pleasure bothers me. Makes me think of Nazi medical experimentation on Jews, and the horrors of the Colloseum. Yes, those are extremes, but look at the principle: The criteria for operation what was most pleasurable for the humans in power. My neighbors demonstrated that their power is in their ability to separate themselves from the harshness of the natural environment. Why do you think they stayed in the doorway and barked safety concerns at me as I stood outside?
I find it telling that when humans impede upon each other in the way that we impede upon nature, we immediately voice complaints of being violated and oppressed. We can raze forests, build dams to decimate salmon populations, and build huge coal-breathing ocean vessels that destroys whales' ability to use sonar appropriately. But when nature comes too close to us without our permission, we throw a fit and and profess some kind of civil violation.
Here is the interesting & scary part: When we impede upon nature, nature does not respond as we do, yet adapts if it can. Problematically, human-centric humans interpret this as condonement because (circularly) the standard for determining and judging bad behavior is created by what those very humans determined as pleasurable or self-affirmative. Do you see the problem? If you tailor the standards of judgment to reflect what you want, then you become inherently self-centered--arguably, narcissistic--because everything that is not you (nature!) becomes marginalized and transgressed because it does not follow your self-satisfying modus! This is why this is more than about bear; it represents a circular ethical purview.
Granted, nature does not speak our human language, but as the philosopher Parker Kristhoffer pointed out to me recently, why is it we cannot understand it's language? When we talk to dogs they know what we are saying. They read our gestures, tone, and words. However, we humans in all our glory still cannot interpret a conversation between two dogs. Is it because civilization has taught us not to listen? Maybe. I just know we have trouble hearing the non-human world, even though we assert we are the most intelligent species. Thus, it is plausible our human-centric egos self-create boundaries of empathy.
Distinguishing boundaries and constructing categories for our behavior is natural because it is one of the most basic forms of judgement we humans perform. My problem with circular ethical purviews is that we take our compulsion to draw boundaries and mutate it into enabling ourselves to be destructive to things that do not fall in our purview; i.e. bears, coyotes, etc. Circular ethical purviews are thus mutually exclusive with enlightened, objective perspectives, because the latter is not all about us.
A circular ethical purview is clear when one builds assumptions into their perceptions and interpretations. Is that not why we build assumptions in, in the first place? To affirm ourselves? If we were not interested in affirming ourselves than we would allow the environment to present itself more fully, and in the example of the bear that ran through my backyard, would have caused my neighbors to interpret the event much more rationally than banding together to talk about how bears could kill us. (As if bears just hang around and plot how to kill humans...)
Let me be clear: Humans are much more dangerous than bears because we have the ability (and apparent craving) for malice. Natural animals only attack when cornered, when you threaten their young, or in extreme instances--and if they have the wherewithal--when hungry.
I find it sad and ironic that human-centric boundaries (safety, power, money, etc.) cause humans to cripple at the sight and presence of one of our natural siblings whom do not operate according to those boundaries. Bears are our brothers, our sisters, etc., they do not want to kill us. The only creature on earth with the capacity for that desire is the human.
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