Humans have pushed a million plant and animal species to the brink of extinction—with potentially devastating implications for the future of civilization.
A United Nations report described as the most authoritative and comprehensive assessment of global biodiversity ever published found that human exploitation of the natural world has pushed a million plant and animal species to the brink of extinction—with potentially devastating implications for the future of civilization.
Conducted by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and released Monday, the report warned that species extinction rates are “accelerating” at an “unprecedented” rate due to the human-caused climate crisis and economic activity.
“The overwhelming evidence of the IPBES Global Assessment, from a wide range of different fields of knowledge, presents an ominous picture,” Sir Robert Watson, chair of the IPBES, said in a statement. “The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health, and quality of life worldwide.”
While the report’s findings—compiled by a team of hundreds of experts from 50 nations—are dire and cause for serious alarm, Watson said, there is still a window for action.
“It is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global,” said Watson. “Through ‘transformative change,’ nature can still be conserved, restored, and used sustainably—this is also key to meeting most other global goals. By transformative change, we mean a fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic, and social factors, including paradigms, goals, and values.”
Eduardo Brondizio, co-chair of the IPBES, echoed Watson, saying “business as usual has to end.”
The IPBES report comes as youth-led movements across the globe are organizing and taking to the streets en masse to pressure political leaders to take climate action in line with the urgency demanded by the scientific evidence.
Andrew Wetzler, managing director of the nature program for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), told the Washington Post that the IPBES assessment shows “that nature is collapsing around us and it’s a real wake-up call to humanity.”
Andy Purvis, professor at the Natural History Museum in London and one of the report’s main authors, said the findings show that the “society we would like our children and grandchildren to live in is in real jeopardy.”
“This is the most thorough, the most detailed and most extensive planetary health check. The take home message is that we should have gone to the doctor sooner. We are in a bad way,” Purvis said. “I cannot overstate it. If we leave it to later generations to clear up the mess, I don’t think they will forgive us.”
All the old ideas for uprooting the status quo have failed.
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All the old ideas for uprooting the status quo have failed. I point this out not to depress people, but to persuade them to stop twisting on locked doorknobs. The old ideas don’t work, so we need new ones.
The political process has failed. Capitalism has failed. Socialism has failed. Libertarianism has failed. Marx has failed. Populism has failed. Anarchism has failed. I say this not because of any glaring flaws in any of those ideas (in theory any of them could potentially work in an alternate universe), but because we are hurtling towards extinction in the fairly near future, and none of them have saved us.
“But Caitlin!” you may object. “My particular favorite ideology would have saved us long ago if only everyone had gotten on board with it!”
Okay. But they didn’t. And now we’re on the brink of armageddon. That means it has failed. It doesn’t work.
We are well on our way to extinction via climate collapse or nuclear holocaust, and even if we miss those by some miracle we are headed toward an artificial intelligence-led tech dystopia in which our consciousness is permanently enslaved by a propaganda network that is far too advanced for there to be any hope of escaping into truth.
We are witnessing a mass extinction the likes of which we haven’t seen since the end of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, with some 200 species going extinct forever every single day. The very ecosystemic context in which we evolved is vanishing underneath us. More than half the world’s wildlife has vanished in forty years, and the worldwide insect population has plummeted by as much as 90 percent. Fertile soil is vanishing, and so are forests. The oceans are choking to death, 90 percent of global fish stocks are either fully fished or overfished, the seas are full of microplastics, and phytoplankton, an indispensable foundation of earth’s food chain, have been killed off by 40 percent since 1950. Science keeps pouring in showing that global warming is occurring faster than previously predicted, and there are self-reinforcing warming effects called “feedback loops” which, once set off, can continue warming the atmosphere further and further regardless of human behavior, causing more feedback loops.
Our ecosystem is very fragile and rapidly fading, and the difference between the ability to survive without it and our current scientific capability is the difference between flying and jumping. Which won’t matter if one of the many small, unpredictable moving parts in the steadily escalating new cold war with Russia results in a nuclear weapon being deployed as a result of misunderstanding or miscommunication and sparking off the annihilation of every organism on earth, as nearly happened during the last cold war on more than one occasion.
This is where the status quo has gotten us. All attempts to overthrow it have failed. The time is up, and the results are in.
The political process doesn’t work.
I say this not because the political process can’t work, due to some technical failure in the way it has been applied. I say this because it doesn’t work, as evidenced by the fact that we’re on the cusp of the apocalypse with no signs of steering clear of it. Attempts to uproot the status quo via political engagement and voting does not work.
“But Caitlin!” you may object. “The only reason the political process doesn’t work is because it has been hijacked by corrupt powers with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo! If we can extract those corrupt powers, we can make the political process work!”
Okay. But you didn’t. You were unable to extract the corrupt powers, and now we’re on the brink of extinction. Your strategy has failed.
Capitalism doesn’t work.
I say this not because capitalism can’t work in theory, I say this because it doesn’t work in practice. How do I know it doesn’t work in practice? Because the planet is dying and we’ve all got doomsday weapons pointing at our heads that may go off at any moment. The results are in. Capitalism doesn’t work.
“But Caitlin!” you may object. “What we’ve tried hasn’t been real capitalism! The free market hasn’t been given a chance to solve all our problems, because of the artificial interference and regulations of Big Government. If we can get rid of Big Government, we can solve all our problems!”
Okay. But that never happened. And now here we are at the end of the world, watching our planet ripped to shreds by status quo power structures. Capitalism failed. It doesn’t work.
Socialism doesn’t work.
I say this not because socialism can’t work in theory, I say it because it doesn’t work in real life, as evidenced by the fact that our world is on fire, our time is up, and we are all about to die. Socialism failed to save us. It doesn’t work.
“But Caitlin!” you may object. “Socialism hasn’t worked because it’s never had a chance to work! If the capitalist imperialists would just stop sabotaging socialist experiments, it would thrive and replace the status quo! We’d all be saved!”
Okay. But we’re not. The worldwide populace has not answered the call of socialism in sufficient numbers to overthrow the interests which oppose it, and now we’re at the end of days. The plan was to unite the working class against the elite oppressors around the world and implement socialism, and it failed. It is a strategy which does not work.
Libertarianism doesn’t work.
We could do this all day, with any number of ideologies. Perhaps libertarianism could work under the right circumstances, but attempts to rally the public around it have utterly failed, and now we’re staring down the barrel of extinction. You can object and make excuses, or you can acknowledge that the strategies for implementing your preferred status quo-challenging ideology don’t work, and find new ones.
It’s easy to isolate yourself within a particular ideological echo chamber and create the illusion for yourself that your pet ideology is making progress. Oh look, Russiagate was disproven. Oh look, Jeremy Corbyn did well in those last elections. Oh look, the Democratic Socialists of America gained a few thousand members. But if you step out of that echo chamber and look at the big picture, you see a futile tug-of-war between feuding ideologies with no gains made anywhere near the scale that would be necessary to avert the massive threats on our horizon.
My point here is that we may have found an ideological standpoint that really resonates with us, and that ideology itself may be intrinsically worthy and vastly superior to the status quo. But the strategies for implementing that strategy have failed spectacularly. If you can’t implement your strategy, you’re just diddling cutesy ideas while the world burns. It’s just a nice identity for you to hold onto and make your feely bits feel nice.
“I’m a Marxist!”
“I’m an anarchist!”
No you’re not. You’re an ideological LARPer dressing up in an identity and pretending to change the world, while the world itself tumbles into the abyss.
Again, I say this not to create a sense of hopelessness, but to get people to stop wasting time and energy pushing on locked doors. Stop trying strategies that people have been trying for decades with essentially zero ground gained, and try something else instead. Stop hanging out in your little echo chambers and thinking that anything’s changing just because you are surrounded by people who agree with you. Sure, hold onto your beliefs about what kind of system would most benefit the world if you like, but be acutely aware that those beliefs in our current situation are completely meaningless.
The reality is that as long as powerful people control the dominant public narratives, no ground will be gained in steering our species away from the status quo trajectory that’s killing us, because you won’t be able to awaken mainstream consciousness to what’s going on. The only thing that has any hope of prying the oligarchic hands off the steering wheel is the mainstream public seeing what they’re doing and using the power of their numbers to force drastic change in a wildly different direction. If we can’t make that happen, we’re all just banging on locked doors while the curtain closes on humanity.
We all need to do better. I include myself in this. We need to try new things. Many, many new things. We need new ideas. What kind of new ideas? I don’t know, that’s why I’m telling you. I’m just one woman, and I put as many ideas out there as I can, but it’s not enough. Clearly it’s not enough, because here we are.
In my opinion the obvious way to open up a path for dissident ideas to replace the status quo is to kill the public trust in the stories they were told in school and continue to be told by the mass media about the kind of world and country they live in, but so far that hasn’t happened. My own ideas for advancing that agenda which I’ve been seeding into the world have been inadequate, and so have everyone else’s. So we need more new ideas. Lots and lots of new ideas.
What we’ve tried up until now hasn’t worked, so if there’s anything that might work it’s going to come from a wildly unanticipated direction, from way outside the failed mental processes which have accompanied us to this point. We need to open ourselves to that kind of idea.
That’s basically all I’ve got to offer today. A helpless but sincere plea for humanity to try something new, spat out onto the internet in the Hail Mary hope that it might plant some seeds and loosen the soil for something unprecedented to open up in human consciousness. Sometimes that’s all that we can do.
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We are witnessing a worldwide environmental collapse, and nobody seems to know how to stop it. As you will see below, a study that was just released that looked at more than 5,000 species of
We are witnessing a worldwide environmental collapse, and nobody seems to know how to stop it. As you will see below, a study that was just released that looked at more than 5,000 species of birds, mammals and amphibians discovered that nearly a quarter of them “will almost certainly face extinction”. Never before has our society faced such a massive collapse of life on a planetary scale, and yet the vast majority of the population doesn’t seem concerned about what is happening. Species after species is being permanently wiped out, and most of us couldn’t care less.
The time for action is now. According to this new study, over 1,200 species will soon be extinct unless dramatic action is taken. The following comes from the Guardian…
More than 1,200 species globally face threats to their survival in more than 90% of their habitat and “will almost certainly face extinction” without conservation intervention, according to new research.
Scientists working with Australia’s University of Queensland and the Wildlife Conservation Society have mapped threats faced by 5,457 species of birds, mammals and amphibians to determine which parts of a species’ habitat range are most affected by known drivers of biodiversity loss.
Once these species are gone, they will be gone forever.
And remember, this study from Australia only included larger creatures such as birds, mammals and amphibians. The situation is far more dire when we look at what is happening to the insect world. The following is an excerpt from my previous article entitled “Insect Apocalypse: The Global Food Chain Is Experiencing A Major Extinction Event And Scientists Don’t Know Why”…
Scientists are telling us that we have entered “the sixth major extinction” in the history of our planet. A brand new survey of 73 scientific reports that was just released has come to the conclusion that the total number of insects on the globe is falling by 2.5 percent per year. If we stay on this current pace, the survey warns that there might not be “any insects at all” by the year 2119. And since insects are absolutely critical to the worldwide food chain, that has extremely ominous implications for all of us.
In case you are wondering, humanity would not survive very long without insects.
In fact, it has been estimated that if all bees go extinct that most of humanity will be wiped out within ten years.
The global food chain is literally dying right in front of our eyes, and I cannot understand why more people are not deeply alarmed by this.
We are facing an unprecedented crisis in our oceans as well. Researchers in Canada have discovered that levels of phytoplankton have dropped by about 40 percent since 1950…
The tiny organisms, known as phytoplankton, also gobble up carbon dioxide to produce half the world’s oxygen output—equaling that of trees and plants on land.
But their numbers have dwindled since the dawn of the 20th century, with unknown consequences for ocean ecosystems and the planet’s carbon cycle.
Researchers at Canada’s Dalhousie University say the global population of phytoplankton has fallen about 40 percent since 1950.
Without phytoplankton, our oceans would quickly become giant “dead zones”, and at the pace we are going we don’t have too long before that will happen.
And the truth is that the frightening drop in phytoplankton levels is already having a dramatic impact on the food chain. I have shared the following quote from Chris Martenson before, but it is worth sharing again…
Fewer phytoplankton means less thiamine being produced. That means less thiamine is available to pass up the food chain. Next thing you know, there’s a 70% decline in seabird populations.
This is something I’ve noticed directly and commented on during my annual pilgrimages to the northern Maine coast over the past 30 years, where seagulls used to be extremely common and are now practically gone. Seagulls!
Next thing you know, some other major food chain will be wiped out and we’ll get oceans full of jellyfish instead of actual fish.
Are you starting to understand where I am coming from?
Our planet is literally dying, and there is only a very, very limited amount of time to do anything about it.
Meanwhile, western civilization is dying as well. Paul Joseph Watson has just produced a video entitled “The Collapse Of Western Civilization”, and it is perhaps the finest video that he has created to date. If you have not seen it yet, I would encourage you to check it out.
In an accompanying article, Watson listed some of the evidence that our society is in the process of collapsing…
From spiritual bankruptcy, to mass chemical dependence, to rampant addiction to sensual stimulation.
Almost every factor that precedes the collapse of great civilizations has been met by the west.
Our destruction is long overdue.
Depression is at its highest level ever. Drug addiction is at its highest level ever.
People identifying as Christians is at its lowest level ever.
As usual, Watson is right on the money. We have lost our values, we have no clear direction as a society, and we are deeply, deeply miserable. Just consider the following numbers from the CDC…
The number of deaths from alcohol, drugs and suicide in 2017 hit the highest level since federal data collection started in 1999, according to an analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data by two public health nonprofits.
The national rate for deaths from alcohol, drugs and suicide rose from 43.9 to 46.6 deaths per 100,000 people in 2017, a 6 percent increase, the Trust for America’s Health and the Well Being Trust reported Tuesday.
Most people do not have a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Without meaning and purpose, most people drift aimlessly through life, and that must change.
Time is running out for our exceedingly vacuous society. We are literally destroying ourselves and everything around us, and here in the western world we have completely lost our values. We are on a road to nowhere, and we will soon be overtaken by the consequences of our very foolish actions.
About the author: Michael Snyder is a nationally-syndicated writer, media personality and political activist. He is the author of four books including Get Prepared Now, The Beginning Of The End and Living A Life That Really Matters. His articles are originally published on The Economic Collapse Blog, End Of The American Dream and The Most Important News. From there, his articles are republished on dozens of other prominent websites. If you would like to republish his articles, please feel free to do so. The more people that see this information the better, and we need to wake more people up while there is still time.
Earth will never be the same.
The phrase “mass extinction” typically conjures images of the asteroid crash that led to the twilight of the dinosaurs.
Upon impact, that 6-mile-wide space rock caused a tsunami in the Atlantic Ocean, along with earthquakes and landslides up and down what is now the Americas.
Although it may not be obvious, another devastating mass extinction event is taking place today – the sixth of its kind in Earth’s history.
A 2017 study found that animal species around the world are experiencing a “biological annihilation” and that our current “mass extinction episode has proceeded further than most assume.”
Here are 12 signs that the planet is in the midst of the sixth mass extinction, and why human activity is primarily to blame.
1. Insects are dying off at record rates. Roughly 40 percent of the world’s insect species are in decline.
A 2019 study found that the total mass of all insects on the planets is decreasing by 2.5 percent per year.
If that trend continues unabated, the Earth may not have any insects at all by 2119.
“In 10 years you will have a quarter less, in 50 years only half left, and in 100 years you will have none,” Francisco Sánchez-Bayo, a coauthor of the study, told The Guardian.
That’s a major problem, because insects like bees, butterflies, and other pollinators perform a crucial role in fruit, vegetable, and nut production.
Plus, bugs are food sources for many bird, fish, and mammal species – some of which humans rely on for food.
A 2017 study looked at all animal populations across the planet (not just insects) by examining 27,600 vertebrate species – about half of the overall total that we know exist. They found that more than 30 percent of them are in decline.
Some species are facing total collapse, while certain local populations of others are going extinct in specific areas. That’s still cause for alarm, since the study authors said these localised population extinctions are a “prelude to species extinctions”.
So even declines in animal populations that aren’t yet categorized as endangered is a worrisome sign.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List, more than 27 percent of all assessed species on the planet are threatened with extinction.
Currently, 40 percent of the planet’s amphibians, 25 percent of its mammals, and 33 percent of its coral reefs are threatened.
The IUCN predicts that 99.9 percent of critically endangered species and 67 percent of endangered species will be lost within the next 100 years.
Elizabeth Kolbert, author of the book The Sixth Extinction, told National Geographic that the outlook from that study is dire; it means 75 percent of animal species could be extinct within a few human lifetimes.
By 2070, 1,700 species will lose 30 percent to 50 percent of their present habitat ranges thanks to human land use, a 2019 study found.
Specifically, 886 species of amphibians, 436 species of birds, and 376 species of mammals will be affected and consequently will be at more risk of extinction.
Roughly 17 percent of the Amazon has been destroyed in the past five decades, mostly because humans have cut down vegetation to open land for cattle ranching, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
Some 80 percent of the world’s species can be found in tropical rainforests like the Amazon, including the critically endangered Amur leopard.
Even deforestation in a small area can cause an animal to go extinct, since some species live only in small, isolated areas.
Every year, more than 18 million acres of forest disappear worldwide. That’s about 27 soccer fields’ worth every minute.
In addition to putting animals at risk, deforestation eliminates tree cover that helps absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide. Trees trap that gas, which contributes to global warming, so fewer trees means more CO2 in the atmosphere, which leads the planet to heat up.
Pics added by Tales
With permission from
December 21, 2018
So…here we are, only a year away from 2020 and contemplating another year in the struggle for survival. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says we’ve got about 12 years to turn this climate change thing around and that’s just to avoid catastrophe, never mind guaranteeing a healthy planet in the future. Such a catastrophe could well involve the extinction of human beings, which would reveal just how dumb we are. Is there anything more stupid that the most intelligently-evolved species on the planet could do than commit mass suicide?
I am astounded at the tenacity, resilience and persistence of folks such as climate scientist James Hansen who, on behalf of future generations, have been shouting about the environmental threat since the late 1980s. And, since those days of his Congressional testimony Hansen, who worked for many years at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), has courageously spread the word about climate change to fulfill part of NASA’s mission statement: To Understand and Protect the Home Planet.
Indeed, this was part of the mission statement of NASA until 2006 when those fateful words were quietly and very symbolically removed. Organizations such as the Union of Concerned Scientists were very disturbed about this development, noting at the time that research and funding opportunities related to earth science and climate change would be much harder to justify with NASA’s new focus solely on space exploration. Some may say it’s a bloody good job that we are learning more about life on other planets and how we can get there, given that a privileged bunch of us may have to flee this one at some point in the not-to-distant future. And, given the inequalities inherent in our current economic order, it will be only the rich that are saved. As for the poor and marginalized, they would be left behind to endure some sort of Mad Max-style barbarism and death.
At the recent climate summit in Poland, UN Secretary General António Guterres warned the plenary that ignoring the science is not just immoral, it’s “suicidal.” While we can feel some hope that the “High Ambition Coalition” of global North and several global South countries are committed to cutting their emissions in line with the 1.5 C temperature rise limit, there are some disturbing realities that must be confronted. Not to put too fine a point on it but achieving the 1.5C limit will require a global revolution. And it is not just about a revolution in technology. And it is certainly not about clever carbon emissions juggling and some tweaking of existing policy. It is fundamentally about recognizing that fossil capitalism, as Ian Angus calls it, is literally killing us.
This is not a new message for those on the environmental left, but for the global North mainstream, and perhaps particularly the Anglo-American portion of that mainstream, it is not an especially welcome message. Downsizing the “American way of life” implies not only radical changes to our daily consumption habits, including what we put on our plates, it also requires a radical ethos of solidarity and compassion that come into direct conflict with the individualist, competitive, growth-obsessed economic culture that dominates our societies. We are talking about a cultural shift that puts the health and welfare of people, communities and nature before profit and access to cheap “stuff.” It has almost become common place in environmental circles to point out that for everyone on the planet to live as we do in North America would require 3-5 planets. Last time I checked we only had one.
We need to directly confront the structural violence of contemporary capitalist institutional frameworks and processes brought to you by the world’s largest corporations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization and the various not so “free” trade agreements dotting the planet (have you seen any workers freely crossing borders lately while capital springs around boundary-less?).
These institutions provide the stage and grease the wheels (literally!) for rampant overconsumption in the global North while promising this lifestyle for increasing numbers in the global South. As living a life of dignity becomes less possible in many countries of the global South and inequality reaches what Oxfam has called “obscene” levels, the ghosts of our failed economic model appear in the form of economic refugees knocking increasingly loudly on our door only to discover tear gas or a wall. It is crucial that we recognize the connections between our Monty Python-sized ecological footprint and the economic and environmental marginalization of a significant majority of humanity. Increasing numbers of people are simply becoming irrelevant to the global economy.
Remember when we used to have dreams about technological developments meaning that time could be freed up for human beings to more deeply pursue their potential by having more of the mundane, dirty and necessary jobs done by machines? But as authors such as Garry Leech note, the “logic of capital” means that these greater efficiencies are often simply about increasing rates of profit while providing access to cheap stuff. Still reeling from “Black Friday” and heading into the holiday buying season, it is all too clear how much we like our stuff.
From a political perspective, maybe the good news is that climate change could be the great equalizer. While the effects are being and will continue to be disproportionately experienced by the poor, women, and people of colour, ultimately none of us can escape its consequences. However, in rich capitalist countries, while we face neoliberal austerity and rising inequality, we still have enough material comfort to pacify most of the population and to blind many of us to the realities of capitalism at a global level, from which we cannot separate ourselves.
I recently spent some time living in Cuba, the only country in the world, according to the World Wildlife Foundation, to have achieved “sustainable development” and where the question of what a future relationship with the capitalist world will look like is being asked very intentionally. It occurred to me while there, that from the perspective of climate change, it is perhaps even more important for usto ask what kind of relationship we will have with capitalism in the future. While our immediate issues and priorities may be different from Cuba’s, the question of what kind of values we want to live by and stand for is something that we can decide consciously, and this may be the most significant question we have to ask in contemporary politics.
So, what is to be done? What are we not doing that we should be doing? When I asked Cuban permaculture expert Roberto Perez what we need to do and what we need to talk about in the current moment to create social change in the global North that would contribute to a more socially just and ecologically sustainable global order, he replied: “When creating a political movement, I always think that things have to be attractive and sexy. The end of the world is not sexy.” We have learned the hard way that simply presenting people with the hard facts of global poverty, unjust wars and environmental degradation does not always lead to behavioral changes. This work is important and needs to happen but there is more to the picture.
The difficult thing to digest is that all of us in the global North are implicated in the continuation of the current economic model. And not because we are bad people. In actual fact, that we are all “guilty” is also good news in the sense that it highlights how we are all interdependent because our activities, purchases and general lifestyles are intimately connected to the fates of other human beings both within our own countries and around the world. In other words, changing our ways can save lives and the planet.
It is due to the everyday lifestyle choices of those in the North, and increasing numbers in China and India, along with the “threat” of those aspiring to live like us, that the capitalist growth machine keeps going. Even when we “know” what the consequences will be, it is difficult to get off the consumption train because everything we do from driving a car, to buying a pair of shoes, to flying to visit our sick grandmother, to eating a cheeseburger turns the wheels. Some people bike to work, shop ethically, and boycott factory farms, among other things, but there is still an underlying awareness that none of us can completely step off the train unless perhaps we decide to live isolated in the middle of the woods. But even living in the woods won’t work because not taking action to stop the train is also a form of accepting it—and the consequences of climate change will still be felt, even in the woods.
So, if providing people with the terrifying “facts” does not necessarily change behavior then what are we missing? Are we all just increasingly depressed and feeling more and more impotent? It turns out that the idea of the world ending really isn’t sexy after all because the changes required of us mean confronting many of our daily habits and comforts—and the less politically-minded may ask, for what? Some vague hope that paying more for my locally-produced organic veggies will make a dent in industrial monoculture crop production? Or that not buying an iPad may contribute to improvements in human rights for Chinese workers? Or not going through the fast food drive-thru may contribute to ending the systematic cruelty of factory farms? Or biking to work (if that is even possible) may mean I don’t contribute so much to fossil fuel emissions? Or putting up solar panels, getting a windmill, exploring geothermal heating etc.? And which f—king toothpaste should I buy? Why are there 20 choices?
Is it surprising that 21st century activists, and those simply aspiring to be good citizens, are a tad neurotic? The list of places and moments where ethical choices present themselves is endless. And is it any coincidence that it seems to be largely the middle and upper classes that have these options? Living ethically in North America not only requires a budget but to some degree it requires the privilege of social capital. Again, it is no coincidence that lifestyle diseases such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes are disproportionately prevalent along race and class lines in North America.
Buddhist scholar and philosopher Joanna Macy suggests that what many of us see as apathy in our fellow citizens is actually pain avoidance. We don’t want to face our own pain and sadness and neither do we want to confront the collective pain of the broader culture we are a part of. While indigenous cultures can’t imagine seeing themselves as separate from nature and each other, those influenced by Western culture and Enlightenment thinking seem determined to see themselves as separate. This has allowed us to justify all kinds of exploitation of people, non-human animals and nature.
Yet at an existential level it saddens many of us deeply that football fields of deforestation are happening every several minutes in the Amazon, that millions of children unnecessarily go hungry every day, that increasing numbers of people are facing floods, heatwaves, forest fires, and that so many non-human animals face cruelty and torture, not to mention extinction on a daily basis, and so on. Roberto Perez believes that “people in the global North know that something is very wrong, they just don’t know where to start.”
Macy suggests that creating spaces to acknowledge this pain and building active hope are at least part of the solution. By active hope she means a hope that does not depend on believing you will meet your goal. It is a hope that believes in the process, in what we do together today. The point being that this is not an individual journey. Interdependence means that we can’t really get out of this mess without collectively shifting the culture and without coming to terms with the fact that many of us feel sadness about the various effects of our consumer capitalist culture from climate change to species extinction to glaring inequality to human rights abuses. And as Roberto reminded me, there are many of us around the world feeling this way. But if we are to avoid stupidly killing ourselves off, then we need to begin asking ourselves: What kind of revolution is required to ensure our continued existence on this planet?
With permission from
November 30, 2018
Cocked the gat to her head, and pulled back the shirt cover
But what he saw made him start to cringe and stutter
Cause he was starring into the eyes of his own mother
— Immortal Technique, Dance With The Devil
“Man is a species-being, not only because he practically and theoretically makes the species – both his own and those of other things – his object, but also – and this is simply another way of saying the same thing – because he looks upon himself as the present, living species, because he looks upon himself as a universal and therefore free being.”
— Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto
“To all those who still wish to talk about man, about his reign or his liberation, to all those who still ask themselves questions about what man is in his essence, to all those who wish to take him as their starting-point in their attempts to reach the truth, to all those who, on the other hand, refer all knowledge back to the truths of man himself, to all those who refuse to formalize without anthropologizing, who refuse to mythologize without demystifying, who refuse to think without immediately thinking that it is man who is thinking, to all these warped and twisted forms of reflection we can answer only with a philosophical laugh – which means, to a certain extent, a silent one.”
— Michel Foucalt, The Order Of Things
This article is a response to an piece by the name same (get it?): Capitalism is killing the world’s wildlife populations, not ‘humanity’.
Everybody with a vape to stomp on these days has a critique of capitalism. It’s about as predictable as a hipster’s gripes about gentrification in their favorite hangout spots. How did so many hipsters get here? (I thought I snuck in). Gulp. Yet it’s worse than hipsters now, far worse.
The hipster (who was at least nice) has now been replaced by the socialist anti-hipster hipster, who is grumpy, resentful, and (to no fault of his own doing) even poorer and more pretentious than his hipster alter ego. I’m afraid that this generation’s Punk is Marx. Now, I love Marx. He’s as much a God as Ramones in my opinion. But he’s the sort of God that develops from a generation that is venereally repressed, or at least venereally stunted, and needs a release from an existence that is basically based entirely in status, appearance, city life, posturing, identity, stress, work, isolation and economic insecurity.
Most of the anti-capitalist talk of today works just as capitalism originally did: as a justification for humans to claim superiority over the earth and not hold ourselves accountable for the horrifying things we do to her. Humanity is capitalism, and capitalism is humanity. To save our planet we must do a whole lot more than find our own subject relation in the world. We must assert radically, as Karl Marx once did, that capitalism is a natural progression of humanity. And as Marx said, we must not only seek to understand this world, but to change it.
As long as capitalism remains a primarily exterior force, we will remain rooted in the passivity that our screen age lays out for us. Where we can consume everything, hate everything, blame everything, but never become something greater, precisely because we don’t believe in anything, except maybe ourselves and avocado toast. Coming to age now is a generation that snottily dismisses God (and all those who believe in him) as a construct. A generation that believes in nothing besides the nihilism of the world as embodied by late-stage capitalism. The truth is that throughout human history, life has been challenging, miserable, unjust, and primarily hopeless.
The inequality in this day and age may indeed be unique, but the suffering is not. Suffering and struggle has been the way of humans and other species during most days, for most times. The only striking thing about this day and age is two factors: 1. the development of the modern subject, who has not only an ego, but an entitlement to ownership of the world around him. 2. the fall of this subject into a place of powerless within the context of mass inequality during the stage of neoliberal late capital. These two factors do create an inconsistency, a heartbroken and demented subject, as best embodied by Donald Trump.
While many may have a critique of capitalism, most critics remain first and foremost as ‘exterior’ critics, unwilling to confront humanity’s central role in the destruction of the ecosystem. Ironically, and in this case, tragically, we fail to see that the shift in the subject from one with the earth to owner of the earth was in fact formed through capitalism, and has only got more out of proportion as capitalism has grown.
Therefore, any critique of capitalism that does not take into account humanity’s relationship with the earth not only fails to consider the earth, it fails to consider capitalism in an honest way. Separating capitalism from humanity is ludicrous. Supposing that some sort of alternative reality will come as prophecy as soon as the means of production are seized forgets one crucial component: what is modern production doing to the planet? The mentality of “it will all be better once we are in charge” is the exact same philosophy that the most cold-hearted capitalists have and it is the exact mentality they all want us to have. It is exactly this competition for the most worthy rulers of society that takes away all those without voices: especially nature, but also other marginalized groups.
As communist superstar Son D. Pham said: saying it’s capitalism’s fault and not humanity’s is like saying I eat burgers, not food. There is a reality we are living in and it is ecological collapse fueled by human activity. As humans, we have systematically ignored and pillaged our earth for our own gain. The vast majority of humanity does not consider earth as its equal, let alone the source of our own life. Ancient societies often would worship the earth, as a God or a parent, or a smartphone (to relate to people today).
Today all religion is being increasingly seen as a joke as we become a society that believes it knows everything. We believe that we are superior to those falling for fake news. We believe we are superior to those who believe in a “simpler life” of providing for their family under the means of capitalism. We believe we are superior to all people who believe in anything other than base cynicism. And, above all, we believe we are superior to nature as we boldly assert that we would have saved the world, if only we had control.
Nature is passing us by, appearing only as an occasional horror story—another weapon for the apocalypse destiny promoted by the dystopian novel, the superhero movie, and every art project today. The sense that nature is God, is our literal mother, is losing its way. Gone now from her breast, we forget it is our mother who feeds, houses and clothes us. We forget that we are merely a construct of her own creation, a blip on her radar, our consciousness only developed through the sounds she gave us, our superiority only fabricated through the apparent faculty she has given us.
I use the “mother earth” phrase, and I hope to clarify why. In our language earth has been classified as female precisely because the male language sees her as secondary and subordinate. Humans see earth as passive and as incapable of being the subject in and of herself. With that in mind, as we reclaim earth as the origin, or even the God, we would do well to keep the female pronoun, for precisely the opposite reasons that this pronoun first came about.
We forget that as many meanings for life we may develop, as many theories of justice, economically or otherwise, we may imagine to be true, none are possible without her. And that our own existence is extremely unlikely, and perhaps even false. And that in fact, given the many universes out there, we may not even be much at all. And actually, if one were to measure intelligence based on other criteria, we would be nothing.
It is only through consciousness, itself an unlikely, and likely highly misleading reality, that masquerades as meaningful, potentially just, and omnipotent only because we know nothing else. It is precisely because of our lack of knowledge that humanity can see itself as all-powerful. It is precisely because we have forgotten the earth that we may now claim a reality outside of her. If we could see right in front of us, we could see where we are going. Now there are a million things to say, and a million different ways to say them, but each branch out further from the truth.
What makes us so certain that we dare to be atheist? And I’m not talking strictly religiously, either. I am talking about that position of believing that humans, especially rich humans, control everything, from destiny to purpose to the future (for mother earth will get the last laugh, don’t forget that). Was it the airplane that created these capital worshipping socialists? Or maybe, just Uber Eats?
What made us so certain that the world was just a resource to be exploited or taken care of? What made us so sure she is something to be managed, solved and explained through the language we speak but she does not hear? That old riddle of a tree falling in the empty woods not making a sound could be revised to say that a human being bleating about capitalism is just not heard by hers truly?
Look at yourself a moment. Those pathetic hands and feet. Your nose, which maybe social media has inspired to be a different shape in your dreams. What made one so sure that the meaning of this life, after all, was a justice by humanity and for humanity? Whether you are a socialist (Marx is seriously worth a read!), or not.
The question, and I think we must cut deeper than the words neoliberal or late-stage capital here. The question must be: how do we remember earth again? Run scared from consumerism or technology or any of the other trendy problems all we want, but are we remembering? Memory is formed not through consciousness, I mean not really. It’s a feeling. You remember people who you don’t have a single memory with, simply because you have been there before. Just as a plant or an animal has been there before. And the earth, we must remember her like this. We must remember the soil between our toes.
Saving the earth will mean dumping everything in our society now. We must again live in a sustainable way, a way unrecognizable to most of us. But again I wonder about the economic solutions being purposed. I draw hope from talks of a Green New Deal. And I like the idea that so many young people are socialists, at least by name. But I wonder too, is any of that enough? Or is any of that really very convincing? Because aren’t we all gone now, anyways? Aren’t we all swept up in the mentality of capitalism? The consciousness of capitalism? We are there. Often critically, often screaming to reshape our lives in radical ways, but, we remain, most of us at least, in capitalism. Trapped in capitalism.
Donald Trump, his ways, his ways of hating everything and becoming distant and self-obsessed and finding a way of seeing the world that deals with his own despair, that is what is going on. There has to be a way to deal with the despair, the hopelessness. Some way to again claim agency.
But is that anyway out? Is controlling this ecosystem destroying society—whether it is equal among us conscious beings or not—is that really the way to go? Should we really be looking for ways to expand our own indulgences in the time when we are draining the earth of all she can give us? The skeptic inside of me says humans are merely turning to socialism now because capitalism has failed each of us individually. This new rise of socialism may not be a communal uprising, but groups of frustrated individuals looking for a capitalist way to rise up and become successful in a capitalist way through socialist means.
The solutions purposed to the present ecological crisis are post-capitalism solutions. They involve the market—they just involve control of it. It was the development of the market (not necessarily the inequalities within the profits) that killed life on earth. It was the ever-growing production itself, not just the distribution of it, that resulted in the ecological crisis we face today. It is precisely that the progression of humanity that has rendered the earth as merely a product for consumption and ownership. The argument we have these days is whether or not the ownership should be for the few or the many. Forget owning the means of production, how about getting rid of production all together?
Forget it all I say. Forget everything humanity has taught us so far, for all we know, however much we may like it or hate it now, is a death wish for these species and all others. Become exactly who we were made to be, biologically that is, not metaphysically. There are specific ways for this species to survive, and specific ways for this species to die. The basic story of our species is this: we have chosen individual pleasure in the short term, and it will eventually doom us in the long term. The bigger takers (far bigger takers) are the rich, and they deserve the bulk of the blame. But overthrowing the rich will only get us so far. It’s a narrow viewpoint that forgets who we are and where we came from.
And despite us becoming so entranced by our own little theories, whether they be capitalism, Marxism or something different all together, we remain worthless in any real sense of the term. All of us, especially the rich ones, are but humble servants of mother earth, and if she wishes to end us tomorrow, she certainly could. For one reason or another, we are still here. I don’t like being thankful for anything near the time of Native American Genocide Celebration season, held on the fourth Thursday of November. But, if I were to claim thankfulness for anything, it would be that mother earth gave me an existence, and made me aware of this existence, even if I am not aware of much else. One can say that is capitalism, not humanity, that promotes self-interest, but that would be selfishly running from the problem. Then again, what else are humans good for?
The article I am responding to at first glance seemed quite radical to me. It contained refreshing class analysis, pointing to the richest people doing the bulk of the consuming with the poorest people feeling the blunt of its effects. I agree that the “blame” assigned should be just as, if not more unequal than our current wealth inequality. An inequality that is as disgraceful as it is heartbreaking. But all that’s pretty boring, isn’t it? And not very helpful. The rich stink. More or less every voice left of center says that these days. And many, many even claim the coveted socialist title.
I don’t have much interest in that socialist title, and that’s probably because every relationship I’ve had with a self-identifying socialist has been quite unpleasant. I’m not exactly sure why that is, but very likely, it is my fault. And even the socialists I don’t know, well, very unpleasant. They leave something sour in your mouth. I hear this wasn’t always the case.
I think mostly it’s just a feeling of being lost in this day and age. God knows the rest of the political spectrum is giving us no favors.
I only include that anecdote because I am finding that anti-capitalism, as an ideology at least, is failing to explain our present state. Keep in mind that Barack Obama is basically called a socialist by the right and that most people believe that. And then Bernie Sanders is called a socialist by the left and most people believe that too.
So I don’t know what to do with this rising hatred of the rich. It’s welcome, for obvious reasons. But it’s a hatred that can be turned on itself, on the working class, and on the earth. And Donald Trump, we see his rise. Basically anti-corruption in rhetoric. Called a populist, and that may not be entirely accurate (simply based on polling numbers by class). Still, he taps into something here. It’s a hatred of neoliberalism, for good reason. Neoliberalism has effectively left all working people in a state of precariousness, nearing collapse both economically and emotionally.
The author who blames capitalism not humanity (Anna Pigott), let’s give her credit. She takes what is a mainstream media thesis and subverts it. The mainstream media blames humanity (speaking generally) and Pigott blames capitalism specifically for the ecological state we are in. Broadly speaking, of course, Pigott is right. The current system is capitalism and the current system is death. But couldn’t we all agree that basically the whole world is capitalism at this point and it would be more accurate to call this a stage in history where capitalism is present, as Marx tried to do.
So I’m not sure where one can really untangle the web of humanity’s trajectory and capitalism’s trajectory. Capitalism is our economic system, just as opposable thumbs distinguish our hands. Now, socialists may counter: other systems are possible! Yes, of course! And like Marx, I see socialism as the next step for humanity. And I dare say it would be welcome, hopefully curbing hunger and homelessness and education and everything else. Celebrating the goods of socialism should be done early, and it should be done often, but in this particular column, I’ll just say achieving socialism would be the peak of human civilization, far beyond what capitalism has ever given us.
But here in lies the problem with the Anthropocentrism approach. The precise problem with seeing socialism as the end-all solution is that it basically is a further progression of capitalism. While in present day we live in a world economy owned by the few, and benefit the few, the goal of socialism is basically a democratic capitalism. Ownership and agriculture still exist, but they are by the many for the many, rather than by the many, for the few. Naturally, such an approach would help the environment, as we would become stewards of the entire environment. Presently we more or less operate as stewards of the environment the rich want to protect, which naturally has limits.
In this sense, socialism is the furthest progression of humanity. It makes capitalism, a truly brutal system, democratic and fair. It says that basically, using the wonderful gifts of humans, we can now provide for all humans, not just the few. Today any of the major inventions by private companies use public funding, with private profits. It’s unfair and wrong and largely hidden. And it causes the majority of the world to suffer needlessly. All that is true. But, what really changes when we change that? A lot changes for humans, certainly But does it stop environmentally destructive inventions that benefit the human race? No, of course it doesn’t.
The theory of capitalism is this: if it makes money, it shall succeed. This helps nobody but those making the profit, so it basically has very few winners. Socialism has much loftier goals: social programs to benefit the masses. But let’s keep in mind that more or less all major developments associated with capitalism are in fact done through socialism. It’s all really a mixed economy, with lots of variances. It is through the labor of the public that we get greatness. The myth of the great individual leading societies forward should be debunked. By arguing for socialism above all else we more or less will keep the earth wrecking environmental practices of capitalism simply because capitalism’s exploits have always aimed to reach the masses one way or the other (cheap labor the most common way). There is really very little evidence that a post-capitalism solution would alter our expectations within a capitalist society.
These are expectations that place the earth last. The earth becomes the means to take care of the working class, or a means to take care of the rich. Take your side in the class war.
The only way to make it in this world would be to basically consume as much as a gorilla does now. I mean, really, we should all become gorillas or else the whole planet is doomed.
However, we aren’t doing that. We may do that someday, even if it seems unlikely now. But at this point in time humanity has fallen so far it is difficult to see how the human race ever becomes self-sustainable again.
The human race is reminiscent of wolves bred into lap dogs. While we can rationally trace upgrades in our species, however, these upgrades rely on a specific set of circumstances, and are therefore, unsustainable. Our current needs to survive are highly specific to our time. Soon the resources we reply upon will no longer be here for us to use. Soon things will start to break down. If one puts a lap dog in the forest, they stand no chance, as they have forgotten their instincts—replacing them with now useless information about how to survive in the civilized world. Likewise, us humans have no idea how to survive any longer. We have developed too far, and gone too fast. We have devolved away from both our means and our capacity to survive in a sustainable manner. If we are having any argument at all on these dying days, it is limited to Anthropocentrism. The class struggle. Who will win. Rich humans or poor humans? At this point, it will be neither.
I do want to clarify my disdain for the rich, and I don’t think it is so much for the reason of absolving the poor. The question of guilt and punishment is, after all, a pretty conceptual one, seeing that it always has been, with a few exceptions, the rich who determine the sanctioned narrative of blame, even if they cannot ultimately decide history or truth completely.
Under capitalism, the vast majority of humanity, with a very few rich exceptions, lives more or less in the moment, not as a strategy, but as a necessity to survive, and even if that hurdle is conquered, as a conditioned habit. It can be said, and I believe I am in no position to judge people otherwise, that most of us really cannot afford to have considerations for the coming mass extinction or our role in it. We, of course, cannot afford not to consider it, but here we get into the question of how much agency the average human, most of whom are pretty poor, really has over the future of the world.
This is what I think was Ms. Pigott’s point, a valid and admirable one. And I think if we were to think about our fate in terms of who can afford to change (and therefore who should be most ashamed that they are not), we would point all ten of our fingers at the rich. But that directly supports my point. Humanity really cannot afford to even consider changing at this point. We are so occupied with survival, with getting through the day, paying the bills, etc., We simply have more pressing concerns than the extinction of our planet.
And this could be qualified as a systematic issue. Surely if we all lived comfortably enough to make the proper adjustments, we would indeed be more likely to make them, even if human history has not necessarily proven this point yet. However, this presents a more perplexing paradox, which is that this sort of change is exactly the opposite of what is being purposed. Capitalists most certainly have an interest in expanding materialism, but Marxism itself is an analysis based in materialism, even if Marx himself could make the necessary statements about the false, and even fatal relationship that materialism creates with the earth.
I think the blindness of the modern Marxist subject to itself was seen pretty clearly with the mounting skepticism of Black Friday’s materialism. Now it’s indisputable. Black Friday is a display of materialism in its ugliness form. Denounce materialism all you want but the only thing unique about Black Friday is that everything is on sale. In other words, things are less money. A rich person would have no need for Black Friday, which again brings us to the hilt of materialist criticism in general. It is a criticism only possible if materials are a choice. And for most people going shopping on Black Friday, they shop then because they need the deal, and those of us rich enough to criticize capitalism mostly forget that in the absence of socialism, capitalism acts as the only bread maker—making capitalism even more urgent to abandon.
That criticism aside, there is another one. And this goes beyond need and goes into the way desire has been shaped under capital. We are in the constant state of need for more, and this often works because there is more to offer, and seemingly, more to gain. And Marxism actually fits in with the needs presented here, it just offers a more just way of distributing it.
The concept of basing all happiness on material gains is an irony lost on many Marxists. I’m not sure if they’re wrong, either. But just as capitalism has contradictions, so does Marxism. And while we obviously can achieve these gains for the masses, we should be appalled by the rich stopping this from happening. We absolutely should be appalled. And yet, the goals, the terms of success, are much the same under both contradicting ideologies of Marxism and capitalism. Material gains as justice (either for the ‘fittest’ or for the masses).
Too harsh? Maybe so. And we should not forget that socialism is among the most “green” of theories out there, both in theory and in practice. And yet green acts as a modifier. The subject of the earth is still negated. The earth still acts as a material to provide for humans. There is still no realistic plan to stop the over-consumption of the earth’s resources. And this sadly may especially be true if Marxism actually succeeds in its goals of bettering the masses.
There is no need to choose though. Being environmentally friendly and socialist are very consistent. The point I am making is not so much to change someone’s socialist politics here. I would say I am an aspiring Marxist first, before anything else. The point is rather to change the subject relationship that we have with the mass extinction that is upon us.
As agriculture ballooned, there simply hasn’t been a sustainable, let alone a just, policy towards the earth. And I think if we truly wanted to save the earth, well we would either live like animals again (hardly a socialist thing to do). Or we would figure out a way to all die at once (which is the crude philosophy behind our pick and choose immigration policy). Other options can help, and are welcome and feasible. They won’t save us, and they won’t save most species of the planet. All the same, they may be the best we can do at this time.
Capitalism then is the problem, but only part of it. When Marx writes that man sees himself as “universal and therefore free” it amounts to a species that can reason out capitalism, precisely because we tend to think of ourselves as the subject. A subject destined to control the object, an object who is earth.
What capitalism does is compound the problem. Capitalism justifies this mentality by making all things (including other humans) into objects. There is always a degree of separation within capitalism. A peach is never a peach. A dollar can buy a peach, so therefore a dollar is earned to get the peach, often at the expense of every peach outside the one you are getting.
And capitalism limits the way we think about freedom. Freedom becomes being able to buy things, because this is the way to survive, and after that, the way to achieve an identity. Capitalism never keeps track of what it means for us all to survive, or even for us all to get along.
However, even a more responsible system, well, it’s unclear what exactly it would do to change Marx’s criticism that “man makes other species the object.” That separation is there, with or without, the degree of separation known as money. It arose before money, this separation arose when agriculture did, and money became the way to mediate it.
Capitalism is an expression of humanity’s development of itself as subject. And Marx saw that this was largely hierarchal within the species, as well as outside of it. No other species sees itself as the subject of justice or meaning. Humanity’s treatment of other species is primarily colonial.
As soon as this separation occurs, the child is no longer responsive to the mother. She becomes his to master, to name, and to exploit. As soon as this relationship is formed, money merely acts as a way to manage what the subject acquires. Money, for humans, is meta. Without money, how do we value what we claim is valuable?
What Michel Foucalt recognized was that if a structure of thought cannot be critical of itself, it really is useless outside its own context. I see modern rational human thought to be quite useless in this way. We have now made curbing climate change our new goal, and the reason we have failed is more or less an extension of the climate denialism in the Republican Party. There is a plain refusal to claim responsibility and there is a lack of self-examination.
In The Order of Things Foucault traces the way we began to order things. Foucault writes brilliantly—exposing, questioning and ultimately dethroning the entire premise in which we arrive at all our conclusions. That premise, if I am reading closely enough, largely has to do with this supremacy of humanity—which itself is based on the supremacy of thought, a force that has no ways to exist outside of itself.
It’s a concept highly influenced by Jacques Derrida’s reading of Plato. Essentially, humanity operates on a tautology. Becoming the master of the earth is preposterous precisely because we are of the earth and we rely upon it for our existence. The key to dethroning the master is understanding change, and that based on new circumstances outside of the master’s control, he will fall.
Like all figures who try to become more than what they are, humans will end their tragedy as something far less. We had a chance to exist in this world but we got greedy. We needed more. This is the story of capitalism. However, it’s also the story of humanity. It’s a classic chicken and egg scenario.
When it comes to chicken and egg, the question in the riddle is always which came first. The same may be true for capitalism and humanity. Although no one ever points to the manifest. When the chicken dies, there will be no more eggs. With the mass extinction upon us, this seems like an apt analogy. So, fear not anti-capitalists, this evil system will be dying soon. The autopsy though will read something different than you expected, if it is to be read at all.
It is best to end these sorts of things on a cheery note, so one more time from Michel Foucault: “It is comforting, however, and a source of profound relief to think that man is only a recent invention, a figure not yet two centuries old, a new wrinkle in our knowledge, and that he will disappear again as soon as that knowledge has discovered a new form.”