Tag Archives: Human Life

Is a Child More Important Than a Gorilla?

Harambe

RIP, Harambe. Thank you for the opportunity to ask important questions. (Image/Reuters)

By now you probably know the story: A four-year-old boy crawled through some bushes and fell 15 feet to the bottom of a gorilla exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo.

A 17-year-old, 419-pound male western lowland silverback gorilla (an endangered species) named Harambe emerges from a cave to find the little boy (whose name is Isaiah).

Eyewitnesses recorded it on their phones of course because that’s what we do now, which is somehow both awesome and horrible.

The male gorilla appears to help Isaiah to his feet. In the video, you can hear people screaming and freaking out. Harmabe’s like: Ugh. STFU, humans. Then, as gorillas do with their infants, he pulls him by the leg through the gorilla enclosure. In normal gorilla terms, it’s all pretty innocuous. At the Cincinnati Zoo, with a small human child involved, it’s terrifying.

Zoo staff hurriedly evaluated the situation, and quickly determined they’d have to put Harambe down to save the child. Tranquilizing 419-pound gorillas is apparently NOT a speedy process. Attempting to would have jeopardized Isaiah’s life as Harambe could have spazzed out pretty hard after being shot with tranq darts, zoo officials said. A rifle shot ended Harambe’s life. Tragically. That’s not in question.

Then the internet did what it always does when things like this happen. It internet-screamed. It internet-screamed in Facebook comments, on Twitter, and in the comments under news articles posted all over the world.

Harambe, the gorilla, is dead despite doing nothing wrong. Many people, if not most, are wondering whether Isaiah’s parents should be held accountable for Harambe’s death.

And at this point, I’m in lockstep agreement with the planet.

OMG, I’m so glad the boy’s okay!

OMG, that’s horrible they had to shoot the gorilla!

OMG, how did a little boy seriously get INSIDE a gorilla exhibit at the zoo with no adult able to stop him?!

But then the conversation took a turn.

People were questioning whether a human child’s life was worth killing an innocent gorilla.

Some suggested that because there are 7.4 billion people and gorillas are facing extinction, that maybe the gorilla’s life is actually more valuable than the boy’s.

Others countered that humans have souls and animals do not, sparking further debate about faith and religion, as some people argued the concept of souls was a made-up fairytale, while others argued that animals do have souls that are more pure than most humans’ will ever be.

Hmm. Heavy things here.

Heavy things which beg the question: How do we rank living things?

Do People Matter Most?

No need to beat around the bush. That is THE question.

Does a little boy matter more than a gorilla?

I was married to someone who would cry when an animal died tragically in a movie (even one we weren’t attached to as part of the story), but wouldn’t bat an eye when a person died in the same story.

I thought it was weird.

But the older I got and the more people I met and the more things I read, the more I realized there were super-hardcore animal lovers who aren’t shy about telling you they’d likely rescue a dog over a person if faced with the choice.

There are people who simply like and care about animals more than they do other people.

That was a foreign concept to me for years because of my upbringing. Let’s talk about that, because our individual upbringings are totally responsible for shaping our thoughts on such things.

Growing Up Me

I was raised Catholic in a small Ohio town where most people were politically conservative.

While I was never a farmer nor a hunter, both farming and hunting were a common way of life where I’m from.

We are taught that God created all things. The Bible is typically where the philosophical buck stops. In other words—whatever the Bible says is true, and everyone else is wrong. But since the original text was written in Hebrew and Aramaic (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament), even the Bible itself is debated intensely.

Husbands and wives don’t understand one another while speaking the same language and standing in the same room.

It’s little wonder that meaning and intent is difficult to decipher in words written thousands of years ago in ancient tongues and using ancient cultural references and communication styles.

But there’s not a ton of ambiguity in the very first chapter of Genesis—the first book of the Bible.

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

And then my ancestors taught that to their kids, who taught it to their kids, who taught it to their kids, who several generations later, taught it to my grandparents, who taught my parents, who taught me.

I never even questioned it.

Here’s what me, and I assume, most people with a similar upbringing believe: God made people and they matter most because they have souls and an intrinsic value that all other life forms don’t have. You can see it in our ability to reason, and create, and love, and display kindness, and to conceive of these important concepts. We can understand the difference between right and wrong and choose accordingly.

We are called to be good stewards of the Earth, but at the end of the day, non-human animals are a lesser life form, which is why we eat beef, pork and chicken; keep pets; allow hunting; aren’t criminally charged for killing deer, raccoons, opossums, skunks, squirrels, or even dogs and cats with our cars; and aren’t considered cruel for caging or leashing animals as we would for doing so to humans.

I assumed EVERYONE, regardless of a belief in God, sort of thought and felt along those same lines, save a few outliers who are really passionate about animal stewardship and live accordingly.

Growing up, I foolishly assumed people with differing viewpoints were wrong, which is why it took me so long to achieve any semblance of maturity and wisdom.

Now, I see differing viewpoints as an opportunity to pause and reflect.

Do I believe—generally speaking—that humans are more important than animals, because a bunch of selfish and misguided humans kept telling the story over and over again, and everyone blindly believed it, so I blindly believed it, even though it might be wrong?

Did people selfishly and cruelly decide one day to dominate other life forms, and because we have the intelligence to reason and communicate as we do, we simply gave ourselves moral license to enslave animals for labor, entertainment and food?

These are fair questions everyone should ask themselves.

Humans vs. Non-Human Animals

Anthropocentrism is the belief that human beings are the central or most significant species on the planet (in the sense that they are considered to have a moral status or value higher than that of all other organisms).

Biocentrism is the belief that all living things possess inherent value, and that nature doesn’t exist simply for human consumption.

As I think about those two concepts, I’d tell you that I was 100-percent in the Anthropocentrism camp in my youth, and have slowly adopted what I’d call environmental sensitivities as I’ve aged.

As a little boy, I didn’t think anything of people flicking cigarette butts out of their car windows. That’s just what people did! And back when I used to smoke, that’s where all of mine went too. But then I moved to Florida as a young adult where I discovered the Gulf Coast’s beaches to be among the more beautiful things I’d ever seen. Sometimes when I was on the beach, I’d see discarded cigarette butts and think the people who put them there were assholes.

Then, because I was still a smoker back then, I realized: Whoa. I’m an asshole, too. And then I stopped flicking them out of car windows, and made sure I found garbage cans to put them in.

There were certain areas in and around Tampa Bay where manatee would congregate in warmer waters. High-speed boaters would sometimes run over their heads and backs, causing severe injury or death to the slow-moving manatees.

After a lifetime of paying little attention to things like littering or wildlife protection, I finally felt the tug: I want to protect these things, even though it means restricting human behavior.

But, where do I draw the line?

I don’t remember when it happened, but at some point in adulthood I realized I was fundamentally against hunting for sport.

What that means is, I would feel uncomfortable killing an animal simply because I wanted to hunt for entertainment purposes. I would probably feel okay about it if I was doing it for food, but since I have supermarkets and whatnot readily available, it seems unnecessary.

Which raises another question: Are animals bred and butchered for grocery sales treated more humanely than animals which are hunted in the wild?

I don’t like to write things and not tell people what I believe and why from a moral and ethical standpoint.

I thought I would discover something about myself in the writing process here. But I haven’t.

These are big and important questions.

Am I more important than an animal because I’m mentally capable of pondering this very question?

If I AM more important than animals, does that mean people more intellectually capable than me are more important than me?

Does that mean less-educated people matter less than me?

Are animals just as valuable as humans?

Are all animals equally valuable? Why do I care about manatee more than I do about goldfish and sparrows?

Are endangered species more important than abundant animals? Where do we draw the line? Between gorillas and sewer rats?

Are our pet dogs and cats and other animals more important than the animals we commonly eat? Which animals are most important? Who gets to decide? How many people have to agree to make it true? Whose opinion ranks highest?

Are insects just as valuable as animals?

Are plants just as valuable as insects?

Is cattle and poultry farming ethically wrong?

Should I avoid killing bugs in my house?

Is eating animals morally reprehensible?

If so, is eating plants morally reprehensible?

HOW wrong is killing an animal?

What if an animal is killed by another animal? Is it okay then? If so or if not: Why?

I read people openly question whether the life of a four-year-old boy was worth killing a gorilla for.

Maybe they wouldn’t have thought that about an alligator or rattlesnake or wild boar. I don’t know.

All I know is, ever since I saw SEVERAL people openly question the value of a human child’s life, I can’t stop asking the question.

How do we rank life?

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The Great Mosaic

Image courtesy of adot.com

Image courtesy of adot.com

Up close, it’s little more than chaos. When we’re in the thick of all the noise, buzzing around doing all those super-important tasks.

Money! Laundry! Groceries! Lawn care! Errands!

Buzz, buzz, buzzing around like bees, doing all this work on jobs that will never feel finished.

What are we doing? What are we looking at?

The Rat Race. Where so many of us are scrambling around to grab everything we can for ourselves. Mine, mine, mine.

Ever see Black Friday shoppers in a frenzy?

It’s like a frightening metaphor for how so many of us live.

It’s how I’ve often lived.

Me-first.

I used to think it was because I grew up as an only child. But maybe it’s just because I’m selfish.

Everywhere in nature not involving human beings, equilibrium is maintained because living organisms only consume what they need. Trees don’t soak up all the water and nutrients in the soil, depriving all other nearby plant life of what they need to live. The trees use exactly what they need to grow.

Lions hunt gazelles. After eating one, they don’t run around killing more.

But sometimes people do things like that. Needless metaphorical gazelle slaughter. We’re cruel to one another. We inflict pain. Lie to get ahead. Insult. Steal. Wound. Rape. Kill.

We do it because other people have different beliefs. Because they have different color skin. Because they live in other countries. Because they’re a different gender. Because they’re not as cool as we are. Because they’re weak.

Because we can.

I didn’t realize it, but the cultural story we all believe about ourselves is a story that’s only 10,000 years old. Humans have been around for 175,000 years. Life is 4 billion years old. So, 10,000 years is nothing. A relative blink.

We’re young. Young and stupid. Like when we were growing up, and we’d take toys from one another, and whisper secrets in the back of class about teachers and other students, or snicker in the halls at kids who knew they were being snickered at.

Up close, in the middle of all the shit, it feels chaotic and hopeless.

“There’s just so much ugly!” we say after watching the news. After driving through bad parts of towns and cities. After reading comments written by cowards on the internet.

But is there really? As a matter of percentage? If we really do the math?

I notice people holding doors open for one another. Smiling and exchanging pleasantries. Extending courtesies of all shapes and sizes.

The news doesn’t tell us about the people who donate their time and money at the local shelters and soup kitchens. Who band together to raise money for their friends’ cancer treatment. Who do immeasurable good.

The ugly gets a microphone and a video camera.

The beauty often gets ignored in the great mosaic.

We need to step back. It’s time.

Life’s Operating Manual

That’s the title of the interesting book I’m reading now. Author Tom Shadyac—an accomplished Hollywood filmmaker—asks readers to rethink many things. He asks a very thought-provoking question: Does life have an operating manual? A set of instructions, that if followed would see the world—and all its inhabitants—achieve an optimum state of being?

The gut reaction from many people—including, admittedly, me on some topics—will be to accuse Shadyac of being a dreamer. An idealist. Someone with a lot of interesting thoughts that are not necessarily executable because you could never get buy-in from enough people.

It would take a revolution.

Is this the world we want?

It would take an awakening.

Does the author ask the impossible?

I used to make fun of environmentalists.

I thought they were a bunch of namby-pamby liberal hippy morons.

When I was 21, I stood face to face with U.S. Vice President Al Gore in the summer of 2000 inside of the newsroom where I was working between my junior and senior years of college. He asked me about my career goals. I shook his hand, smiling, and answered his questions honestly, even though all of my goals have since changed.

I respected the vice president. I was polite. I try hard to treat everyone that way.

But in the back of my mind? I remember thinking his position on the environment bordered on lunacy.

This will not be a place where we spend much time discussing politics. But I do try to be transparent with you and it’s a topic I’ve mostly danced around. Intentionally.

Because I care about connecting with people. I think connecting with people is WAY more important than politics.

And political conversation, debates, arguments disconnect us.

I don’t want any part of that.

Because I respect you and want to talk to you no matter how much you agree or disagree with me. That’s the only way that makes sense to me. That’s the only way I can think of that gives us any chance of making the human experience a better one.

I have a mostly conservative and right-leaning political history. I was raised in that environment.

I’m politically moderate today. When I take those online political quizzes, I come out damn near dead center of the grid.

I’ve left behind the political ideals that stopped making sense to me based on my life experiences.

And I’ve gravitated left on some social issues, education and the environment as a result. All of those things have a very striking commonality to me.

They strike me as non-partisan issues. We politicize them so we can scream at each other on TV and radio and in internet forums and at political rallies and conventions. Our media accommodates because they like the ratings and the opportunity to help shape public opinion on editorial pages and via talking heads.

But the truth is, most sane people care about the general welfare of all people, an education system which functions effectively, and do not recklessly seek the planet’s destruction.

The vast majority of us don’t even think about it. How much has changed.

We were born into a world with highways and skyscrapers and infrastructure and where traveling the globe relatively safely are commonplace.

It’s what we know.

But not long ago, EVERYTHING was different.

Just 2,000 years ago—there were only 250 million people on the planet. Today, there are 317 million people in the United States alone, and more than 7 billion people worldwide.

It took 174,800 years of human life before there were a billion of us. It took 123 years to reach the second billion, 33 to reach the third and 15 to reach the fourth.

In about a dozen years, we’ll have 8 billion alive on earth.

The planet is filling up.

I’ll leave it to the experts and Chicken Littles to debate the health and sustainability of our planet’s natural resources. I’ll just listen to what makes sense to me and try to be part of whatever the solution is.

But I do think about all the people. As we continue to close in on one another. As our needs increase.

It’s going to become increasingly more important that we co-exist.

As the population increases, we need to make sure the beauty—the good—increases as well.

No Beginning, No End

We don’t have any hard edges. You and me. We’re mostly empty space. A whirling flock of subatomic particles dancing in the air, comingling with everything around us, including one another.

Our hearts have a measurable electromagnetic field it emits 10-15 feet from our bodies, causing our hearts to literally affect other peoples’ hearts.

At the risk of sounding like a namby-pamby liberal hippy moron, I’m really coming around to this idea of “oneness.”

That we’re all made from the same stuff.

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

But not just with our planet.

But with one another.

I believe we are all intertwined. Connected.

That you are me. Sorry!

That I am you.

And that all those soft-edged particles of energy that make up our bodies, hearts, minds and souls can dance together if we can just take a step back from the chaos and see the big picture.

A change of perspective.

A step back from The Great Mosaic.

So instead of this…

cassini-wave-earth-detail

We see this.

wave_earth_mosaic_3

Happy Earth Day.

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