Yet Another Letter to the Editor
I wrote the following letter to the Editor of The Independent in response to a letter written by Dr. Jentry Anders, the author of Beyond Counterculture, a book that describes the modest beginnings of the “back to the land” movement in Humboldt County, and reveals, more than anything else, just how infatuated Baby Boomers are with themselves. Beyond Counterculture remains a central text of the “back to the land” mythology even though not that many people have actually read it. More about the myth of the “back to the landers” next week.
I always enjoy hearing from Dr. Jentry Anders, but I must take exception to her most recent letter to the editor. Her explanation of the concept of carrying capacity, and the ecological function of limiting factors as regulators of population were accurate, succinct, and well supported by scientific evidence. However, her contradicting statement, just a few paragraphs later, “It is far too late to apply the concept of carrying capacity to human behavior in most situations.” has no such basis in fact.
Only by the special “magic” of our political and economic system was it possible for some humans, like college professors, politicians, lawyers, judges, cops and drug dealers to temporarily live as though the concept of carrying capacity did not apply to humans, and that limiting factors did not exist for them. The special “magic” of our system comes from the belief that civilized humans are superior to nature, and not bound by its laws. The belief that civilized humans are superior to the rest of nature is a cornerstone of our culture, and it continues to guide and shape our society.
This firmly held belief, backed up by systematic, institutionalized violence, justified the extermination of Native Americans, the liquidation of old-growth forests, and the wholesale replacement of natural habitat, at every turn, with simplified man-made environments. This belief continues to appeal to humans, especially those who have come to enjoy having the Earth’s bounty stripped, rendered and served to them on silver platters, and it perpetuates the unmitigated, destruction of nature to serve the whims of some privileged humans.
In the process of expressing their perceived superiority, these privileged, civilized people, with their superiority complex, their brutal violence and their insatiable appetites, manufactured an environmental crisis of unparalleled gravity, and dumped it in our laps. Their activity has dramatically reduced the overall carrying capacity of planet Earth for all creatures, and led to an explosion in human population. However, carrying capacity and limiting factors still apply to humans, just as they did to the countless species driven to extinction by the relentless, expropriation of all natural resources for the benefit of some humans. Apparently, Dr. Anders believes it “far too late” to challenge this elitist attitude, regardless of the scientific evidence refuting it.
It’s easy to “have nothing but compassion for individual people who are now suffering because humans had exceeded their carrying capacity, globally.”, if one remains unwilling to challenge the system responsible for this disaster. As long as this system goes unchallenged, more and more people can expect to share that “nothing”, and that “compassion”, for what it is worth, gets spread thinner as well. Personally, I have nothing but contempt for people who have enough education to understand how the system works, yet remain unwilling to challenge it.
Every homeless person understands the concept of limiting factors on a visceral level. Not only do they understand natural limiting factors, they understand artificial, man-made, limiting factors, and they didn’t need a Pell Grant to afford the tuition to learn it. It’s only the privileged class, a small minority, globally, for whom limiting factors have become an alien and repugnant concept, and it was for them that the Earth’s bounty, as well as countless millions of human lives, have already been sacrificed. It is for these privileged few, that our future has been mortgaged, and Dr. Anders suggests, it is for these privileged few that the last remaining natural resources, be more carefully managed.
When Dr. Anders states, “The only thing I can do is crusade for family planning and choose my decision-makers by their willingness to admit that limiting factors for humans exist…”, I’m reminded that the system of empowering privileged “decision-makers”, always backed by soldiers and lawmen with guns, even when guided by the scientific knowledge of college professors, has failed us spectacularly, completely, and irreparably. In addition to our current environmental crisis, privileged people, and their “decision-makers”, gave us genocide, slavery, poverty, and the horrors of technological warfare, among other gems. They also gave us marijuana prohibition, which artificially drives both agricultural and population expansion, locally.
Not only does our current political and economic system guarantee “the grimmest of futures” for even the privileged, or at least their progeny, this system has already dealt the grimmest of pasts to Native Americans, African slaves, and many millions of others, not to mention most of the non-human creatures with whom we once shared this marvelous blue marble. Today, all you have to do is look around, to see entirely too many people facing a very grim present.
This crisis won’t be solved by electing the right people, or by enacting thoughtful policy at the national, state and local level. That’s what got us into this mess. As dire as our ecological crisis surely is, we should see it as a symptom of a cultural crisis, a cultural crisis with immeasurable consequences for every living thing on Planet Earth.