Horrible spelling aside, this poster from Yahoo! Answers wants to know the ‘point’ of all the people being born in Africa seemingly only to die.
“What’s the point?” What does that mean? Why does there have to be a point?
The situation in Africa is complex and understanding the labyrinthine connections of cause and effect would take years of study.
Humans are animals and as such we follow many of the same reproduction strategies.
Populations with a high infant mortality rate tend to have a greater number of children. The more children you have, the higher the chance of some surviving long enough to reproduce and take care of you when you’re unable to. While African countries have the among the highest infant mortality rates in the world, they also have the highest population growth rates. This fact is often overlooked by those who would play on your bleeding heart (and then ask you for money) about all the people dying in Africa.
All the kids in those commercials all have something in common with you. They are flesh and bone. People who are flesh and bone are made of food. This should be obvious but is something overlooked. If there really was no food for them to eat, they wouldn’t be there. Of course there are plenty of kids who do die for lack of food but the inescapable fact is that the population is growing. There is food.
Increased food production/supply will always result in an increased population. The human population on this planet continues to grow as we continue to produce more food. Affluent societies tend to have fewer children per family while poorer societies tend to have more children per family, so it should come as no surprise that the poor population is expanding. This is true in Africa and it is true in the inner city.
Agriculture allows for an area of land to produce food more efficiently. But this efficiency comes at great cost to the long-term health of the land. This efficiency leads to an increased population. Over time, the population growth will outpace the ability of the land to provide for the people. This requires food to be imported from other areas to the detriment of that land and its people. It is a vicious cycle that has been going on for 10,000 years since the Agricultural Revolution. More food results in more people who require more food so they produce more food which results in more people.
The land in Africa cannot support the population of Africa. Importing food to Africa (and the resultant population growth) only adds to the instability of the population. When (not if, but when) it becomes the case that Africa can no longer import food, the results will be disastrous. It will make the Irish potato famine look like a picnic. It is inevitable. The greater the population of Africa is when it happens, the worse it will be. Yet, the population of Africa is growing.
Agriculture is not sustainable because it damages the land and results in a self-perpetuating population growth that is inherently unsustainable. Continuous growth is one of the big myths our civilization is based on.
The problem is not just limited to Africa. The planet cannot sustain 7 billion people long term and yet our population is growing. We are in the middle of a period of mass extinction at a rate not seen since the fall of the dinosaurs. We are causing it. We are rapidly converting the world’s biomass into human biomass — us and what we like to eat — all at the expense of biodiversity and long-term stability and sustainability.
A global population crash is inevitable. The only question is how much damage we do to the landbase and the world’s ecosystem in the interim.
So what’s the point? The point is that our culture (not humanity, as the Yanomami, Piraha and bushmen aren’t doing this, our culture is doing it.. the so-called civilized) is setting itself up to crash and crash hard. Our culture has a number of myths that enable this behaviour and if we are to survive at all, we must work to dismantle these myths. Now.
One of those myths is that there is some sort of cosmic point to all of this. There isn’t. We are utterly insignificant in any grand scheme of things. We are responsible for our own actions and inactions. The Easter Bunny won’t save us.
Prompted by the recent Munk debate in Toronto between Christopher Hitchens and Tony Blair, the blogosphere is buzzing with everyone offering their own take on the question, “is religion good?”
The audience of that debate voted a resounding ‘no’ and gave the victory to Hitchens. Leading up to the debate, there was an Ipsos-Reid poll asking, “is religion a force for good?” Mercifully, only 36% of Canadians surveyed said religion was good, compared to 65% of Americans and 92% of Saudis while only 19% of Swedes could say the same.
It’s funny. I’m assuming if you’re reading this that you already know what I think. Maybe you don’t. A couple months ago a friend of mine told me that people who go to church have better morals than people who don’t. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and as this person and I have had many conversations about religion, I couldn’t believe he would actually say something like this to me. So maybe I’m not always explicit. Maybe my criticisms are seen as being in jest or as purposeful exaggerations. Let me be clear, religion is terrible. If there was such a thing as “evil,” religion would be that.
I’ve left a few comments on various sites and blogs but this one in particular might deserve mentioning.
My first comment was this:
“Our cultural ancestors invented the idea of gods to justify attempting to live outside the “laws” of nature. The story of the fall of Adam and Eve, for example, is clearly describing the Agricultural Revolution. Pretty much all of Genesis reinforces this view. Who could possibly give us the authority to take over the world: to go forth and multiply, to have knowledge of who should live and who should die (is that not the knowledge of the gods? of good and evil?) Who could possibly have given us that kind of authority but the gods themselves. And so we invented religion to justify our behaviour. As a result, civilization was born and expanded and fuelled a population explosion. We’re now living in a time of mass extinctions at a rate not seen since the fall of the dinosaurs only this time we know we’re the ones causing it. We can no more live outside the laws of nature than spiders, salmon or sequoias can. In order to work, airplanes do not ignore the laws of gravity. Jump off a cliff and you better expect to hit the ground eventually no matter how hard you flap your arms. Eventually the law of gravity will catch up with you. In the same way, the laws of nature will eventually catch up with civilization and it will crash and crash hard. The only question is how bad is it going to be? Considering the damage we’re doing to biodiversity, there is a real danger of total collapse of the ecosystem. Why else do you think the Abrahamic religions are so eschatological? Neighbouring indigenous tribes have always known how dangerous it is to live as though you were above nature.
Let me be very clear: All the horrors of civilization — famine, drought, overpopulation, genocide, disease, etc — are enabled by religion. “Go forth and multiply” is nothing less than a declaration of war on the environment.
Of course there are other myths and false premises that civilization is based on but the god-concept is one of the big ones.
Nothing religious people do could ever make up for the kind of destruction that religion has enabled. Of course, your help in taking down civilization would certainly go a long way.”
Someone replied to me saying that Indians (sic) were religious and there was no correlation between the destruction I was talking about and religion. Of course, this is nonsense…
“Actually the gods of the indigenous peoples of the world (past and present) are very different from the gods of civilization. By and large their deities (where they have them, some tribes don’t/didn’t have any at all) are personifications of natural processes as they knew them, not some omnipotent and omniscient father figure. Consider Atira of the Pawnee who was represented earth and was considered the “Sacred Mother” of all things:
“The Pawnee were hunters. When told to abandon hunting and settle down to farming, their priest replied: “You ask me to plow the ground! Shall I take a knife and tear my mother’s bosom? Then when I die she will not take me to her bosom to rest. You ask me to dig for stone! Shall I dig under her skin for her bones? Then when I die I cannot enter her body to be born again. You ask me to cut grass and make hay and sell it, and be rich like white men! But how dare I cut off my mother’s hair? It is a bad law and my people cannot obey it.””
Even more anthropomorphic figures like Nanabozho have nothing in common with an Abrahamic god, for example. Nanabozho’s story is a living story which has been adapted to include him killing Paul Bunyan to protect the forests. That’s a far cry from some invisible, omnipotent law giver.
No, their gods are definitely not the same as our gods.
If you have any understanding of the origins of the various religions of civilization, compare that to the model for the expansion of agriculture/civilization found in Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs and Steel.” There is clearly a parallel. And you’d expect the Bible, for example, to have some sort of reference to the Agricultural Revolution since it happened at around the same time in about the same area as some of the other stories. Not surprisingly, it does… the story of the Fall of Adam and Eve. The story obviously doesn’t refer to the actual first humans and it would be absurd to believe so. But the development of agriculture would have been a momentous event for these people, definitely important enough to them to call it “creation.”
Even consider the symbolism of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The birth-death-rebirth cycle is a very common theme and, again, is symbolic of natural processes. The story of the Green Man has a lot of parallels with the story of Jesus. The biggest difference is that the Green Man dies and is reborn every single year. When coopting this meme, Jesus only did it once symbolizing a permanent fracture with natural processes. Of course, the story is that Jesus did it for our sins so that we could have eternal life in heaven. Who wants to die — even if your death means life for other creatures — when you can live forever with the most powerful entity imaginable when he happens to love you? Well, me, and virtually all indigenous peoples.
I’ve noticed through my activism that people tend to get just as mad when you say that we are animals as they do when you say there are no gods. Religion has everything to do with our perceived break and separation from nature.
So don’t tell me there’s no connection. It wasn’t the Pawnee or Ojibwe (or the Yanomami, Piraha, or Bushmen, etc, etc, etc) who brought us to this point. It was the sons of Adam. Agriculturalists. Civilized. Us.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about this war we’re in. No, I’m not talking about Afghanistan or Iraq. I’m not talking about North Korea or Iran. I’m not talking about the war on drugs or the war or poverty. I’m not even talking about the war against Christmas. I’m talking about the war that’s been going on for 8-10,000 years or so.
I’m talking about the war of civilization against the natural world. I’m talking about the war of belongings against belonging… the war of hierarchy against community… the war of industry against the land base. I’m talking about the war of linear logic (and spirituality) against the fundamental interconnectedness of all things. This is the war of power and control against life.
If you’re still not sure what war I’m talking about, you really need to get yourself up to speed. The belligerent aggressor is civilization itself. We, the “civilized,” have been waging a war as we’ve done our darnedest to live outside the laws of nature. We’ve invented gods and religions to enable us to think we’re somehow special. Not only are we supposedly distinct and superior to non-human animals, we’ve been commanded by the gods themselves to take over the natural world. And you thought “go forth and multiply” was just a cute little phrase in the Bible while it is clearly a declaration of war. The land is ours, screw the spiders, salmon and sequoias. As the human population has grown exponentially, we’re in the midst of a period of mass extinction not seen since the fall of the dinosaurs and we’re (we the civilized, not we humans. The Yanomami, Bushmen and Ayoreo are not only innocent in this, but also victims of this) the ones who have been causing it. We’ve been undermining the ecosystem to the point where a few species failures could very well cause the whole ecosystem to collapse. (Seriously, if diversity is good for your stock portfolio, wouldn’t biodiversity be that much more important for the ecosystem? It is infinitely more important.)
The object of this post isn’t to explain why civilization is bad. If it isn’t already evident to you, there are a number of books and authors I can direct you to. There are plenty of people who not only realize we’re at war, but have engaged on the side of the land and of nature. I’m one of those people.
I have almost finished reading Derrick Jensen’s Endgame, Vol. 2. One of the central topics of the book is to what extent are we justified in our actions to do what is necessary to take down civilization. In particular, Jensen exposes the pacifism preached by many environmentalists and activists as foolishness and folly. I didn’t need convincing.
The purpose of this post is mostly for me to record my reaction to Jensen’s argument. I feel he missed a few important points that only help his argument. I haven’t quite finished reading the book so maybe I’m the one who has missed something.
The first thing is that not only is self-defense justified, I don’t even see it as being violence. If a man tries to rape a woman and she kills him defending herself, that isn’t violence as far as I’m concerned. If you could go back in time to 1938 and kill Hitler, would you do it? Would that be violence? If you would go back and kill Hitler, why haven’t you already killed Tom Albanese, Gary Jackson, or Hugh Grant? (I’m not suggesting anyone should go kill these people.)
Actually, now that I’m writing this down, I’m wondering if Jensen doesn’t want us all to accept it would be violence to kill in self-defense so that these corporations don’t get to use the same self-defense argument to explain away their violence. I could justify using violence to kill Hitler. Maybe those CEOs could not justify the violence they use against indigenous people (or non-humans) if they were forced to considering what they do violence. (And it is violence.)
The second point I’d like to make is on the nature of war. Some form of militancy – of violence – is expected in warfare. Obviously the focus of grand strategy should be to win, but what does winning look like? B.H. Liddell Hart said that the object of war is to secure a better peace. I think this makes for an excellent watermark for us to determine our strategies and tactics. If the actions we perform help secure a better peace, then we are fighting the war strategically. If we are engaging our violent fantasies or our predilection for explosions, we are not fighting strategically. CEOs can be replaced easily enough. (See? I really wasn’t suggesting anyone kill those people.) “Critical” infrastructure on the other hand… Also, liberating rivers from dams would surely be a better peace.
The last point is also related to the object of war. Civilization doesn’t have a standing army whose defeat in the field would result in our victory. ( Not that that’s how most conventional wars are necessarily won either.) Storming Monsanto corporate headquarters won’t bring down civilization any more than the storming of the Bastille brought down hierarchy. That’s not to say these events were not (or wouldn’t be) considered victories but they were not (and will not be) the end.
As much as the physical acts of violence against the environment must stop, so too must the intellectual and emotional. There are some fundamental errors in the premises of civilization that have to be replaced. As much as rivers need to be liberated from dams, which will require explosives, we won’t see victory until those premises have been replaced. We are no more special than spiders, salmon or sequoias. The land does not belong to us, we belong to the land. This is where pies can be more effective than RPGs. It’s hard to take someone seriously when they are covered in whipped cream. It’s hard to fear someone you’re laughing at. These kinds of tactics can be useful expressions of resistance. “No, Mr Grant, I don’t even recognize your authority, let alone respect it.” Guns are probably always a challenge to authority. Sometimes that might be called for. Sometimes we probably want to project our rejection of authority.
If the object of war is to secure a better peace, we have to have some idea of what a better peace is to look like. Yes, there will be no dams so they will have to come down. But when it comes down to the epidemiology of abuse, we’ll have to treat the causes rather than the symptoms. This war will be fought with all the tools at our disposal from memes to mines.
From Yahoo! Answers:
The Bible exists. Lets take that for granted shall we?
Reading the Bible as entirely metaphorical or a simple morality play doesn’t do the Bible justice.
The Bible is a book of cultural history. A collection of stories passed on orally for generations (they were that important to those people) before finally being written down (again, they must have been considered very important.)
If you have to over-interpret the text of the Bible to make it make sense with modern theology (or scientific understanding) you are doing a great disservice to this book of cultural history.
If we are to interpret the Bible, one has to make some assumptions. The validity of our interpretations is directly related to the validity of our assumptions.
Christians tend to fall into two camps, either:
A) The Bible is the factual, literal and accurate word of God. Everything in it is exactly true. Of course, one of the assumptions is that the Christian god is real.
B) The Bible is a metaphorical expression of God’s will and love for his people. He spoke to them in a language they could understand that may not be directly translate for us now. It is full of parables and allegories giving us direction for how to live our lives. Of course, the assumption here is also that the Christian god is real but there’s also an assumption that the various interpretations are valid.
We atheists also tend to have our own assumptions. Most dismiss the Bible as fable or just quaint old stories that have no value for us today.
As an atheist, I obviously don’t believe in gods, so I don’t accept the assumption that the Bible is infallible or the word of God. However, unlike many atheists, I appreciate the cultural importance of the Bible. These were the stories that survived. They must have had importance for these people 6-8,000 years ago. The book of Genesis in particular had to be about something. It had to have importance for them. They obviously weren’t actually talking about *creation* during the story of Adam and Eve so we can dismiss the literal interpretation. Were they just talking about the dangers of sin, pride and disobeying god in a metaphorical sense?
Those who interpret the Bible literally tend to believe the earth is somewhere between 6,000 and 10,000 years old because that’s the number “Bible math” gives them. This is obviously false but do these numbers mean anything? I’ve heard so many interpretations .. of days as ages or days being longer or any number of very strange over-interpretations to make the Bible fit with our own understanding of the history of the planet. Again, this interpretation downplays the importance of these stories to the writers of the Bible. They likely wouldn’t have gone to such great lengths to discuss the chronologies if the timelines were just meant to be figurative.
So if my assumptions are the Bible is not literal history but the stories were of great importance, then what might be the important event they’re talking about when they talk about the Fall of Adam and Eve? Is there anything at all in history that could give us any clue of any important event (important enough to inspire “creation” stories) that happened in that time and in that area?
Something huge did happen in the Levant about 8,000 years ago. It’s an event we all know about but for some strange reason not many have associated it with the stories in the Bible. (Actually there are very good reasons why not many scholars or scientists or theologians will make the connection, but that’s another topic) This was an event with such far reaching consequences that it still affects us today. Actually it is the event that gave birth to civilization itself! What else could be glorified so far as to call it creation? The event I’m talking about, of course, is the Agricultural Revolution.
This is already a wall of text, so if you’d like you can read some more about how the story of the Agricultural Revolution is the story of the Fall of Adam and Eve here:
Most of the OT is the story of the spread of civilization builders. In this context almost everything makes a certain degree of sense. It is surprising how much you can actually take literally when you understand the proper context.
Of course, this is just an interpretation. It is not indisputable fact and I could be wrong. (Though what an amazing coincidence it would be for the Agricultural Revolution to be happening at the same time in the same area as this religious revolution if the two didn’t have anything to do with each other.) However, I would suggest that my assumptions are the most valid (important cultural history) and that my interpretations are the most consistent with the text as well as with history as we know it.
So the trouble with a Christian’s metaphorical interpretation is that it ignores the historical context. Without that context, and with a book as long as the Bible, you can pretty much over-interpret it to mean anything you want.
With that historical context, you’re forced to consider a number of issues:
-religion is a function of civilization, not humanity. It is cultural.
-Agricultural civilization has expanded to the point of our global population crisis. “Go forth and multiply,” indeed. Done and done and much to our detriment. Those are the most destructive four words in history.
-religion enables our culture of extraction.
If we’re going to solve these problems of overpopulation and avoid total collapse of our ecosystem, we’re going to have to understand how we got here. Our civilization is based on many myths, religion is just one of them. This whole, “God loves us and will take care of us” BS has got to go. Too many people are looking forward to eternal life in heaven that they don’t recognize the negative impact we’re having in this life today.