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Posts Tagged ‘species’

Mary Wollstonecraft, an acclaimed 19th century writer and activist, once said, “No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness.” In everyday life, I believe this is largely true. We give in to the yearnings of either lust or money (and, really, there is very little difference) and Hell follows. A few years ago, one of the richest men in the United States was interviewed after throwing a magnificently overdone party which cost more than most Americans earn in a year. He was so wealthy, and had been for so long, that he had lost track of what he owned, forgetting cars, houses, jets, entire businesses… When asked what he could possibly still want, he answered simply, “More of everything.” Now, I don’t consider that evil – offensive and nauseating, but not evil per se – but I think it is that kind of runaway greed and self-indulgence that leads to evil things.

So why all this talk about evil? Well, I believe evil begets evil. The more bad stuff that’s going on the world, the easier it is for even more bad stuff to happen. A negative feedback loop, if you will, where the situation gets progressively worse with every trip around the loop. Or, say, sun. But it’s an intensely difficult system to change, not one you can easily knock off balance once it has some momentum. And momentum, unfortunately, has never been the problem.

Humans are easily manipulated, panicked, frenzied. A few well-placed hoorahs can put a man in power, or leave him dead in the street. We have quick tempers, long memories for grudges, and a lust for vengeance. But we are also quick to forget treacheries that did not involve us directly, and we easily swallow lies as long as our standard of living remains acceptable. We have the intelligence to fabricate fantastic weapons able to produce the heart of a star on the surface of our own planet … but not enough intelligence to accept peace. We are an interesting but dangerous species, classified as a mammal but with all the trademarks of a virus. What we need is a vaccine.

A vaccine does not kill a virus. Instead, it prepares the host for the potential of a battle with a virus. It posts guards and rallies the troops, if you will. Then, if the virus later infiltrates, the host is prepared and the virus is controlled before any damage is done. The battle is averted. The war is won, essentially, before it’s begun. And the trouble-making virus isn’t really destroyed. It is incorporated into the host, becomes a peaceful part of it, and its antibodies survive as long as the host lives. That way, if another faction of the virus invades, it can also be quelled before war breaks out. This is exactly what we need. The trouble, with humans and vaccines, is that they only succeed on one issue at a time.

As a species, I’m not sure where we’re headed. The utopian society envisioned in the early 20th century never materialized. The Jetsons are as far away as ever. As long as we keep focusing on material goods and indulgent comforts, it will probably stay that way. That’s not to say there is anything wrong with wanting a decent house, a reliable vehicle, or three squares a day. But it’s hard to work toward political stability, reduced international tensions, and peaceful resolutions when all you can think about is “more of everything.” It’s important that we not let the pursuit of perceived happiness lead us down the wrong road, toward decisions with irreversible consequences and no redeeming outcome in sight.

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I believe agriculture has failed us. Or, more aptly, that we, as a species, have failed the practice of agriculture.

I picked up a few melons from a farm stand. It being summer, and having a penchant for melon-meat anyway, I could not resist the lovely array of melons the stand offered. I picked a quintessential seasonal trio of watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew, each which I was assure was “ready to cut and eat” as early as that very evening. They looked wonderful. They smelled wonderful. I could hardly wait to dig into the soft flesh and find out whether they also tasted wonderful.

Long story short, they didn’t. Not one of them. Even after picking the ripest of the lot, the only one actually “ready to cut and eat” was the watermelon, which turned out to be very juicy (a good thing) but almost flavorless (not a good thing). But watermelon is finicky, I understand, and depends a great deal on both rainfall and soils (similar to the grapes of vineyards, I suppose, which is how some connoisseurs can hone in on what region produced a wine from a single taste). So okay, no harm no foul, on to the next melon.

The cantaloupe aged three days before I cut it, even though it already had a large soft spot on one side (which allowed me to get it for a fraction of the asking price). Again, after picking through the lot and going with the ripest one, it simply wasn’t ready. But after waiting as long as I dared, I cut it with a watering mouth and eager taste-buds, ready for that sweet soft orange flesh to practically melt on my tongue. The first sign that my plans were going awry came when the melon fell in two halves and I stared at its white innards. White, not orange, like every other cantaloupe I had ever cut that was even remotely near ripeness. Uh-oh. It wasn’t soured (my primary fear from that large soft spot on the side) but was, again, almost flavorless. The hue of the heart deepened to a pale peachy color and tasted as though someone had lightly drizzled it with the juice of an actual ripe cantaloupe … and the rest was bland. Not sweet, not sour, not bitter, nothing. And the meat itself was actually tough. For the first time in my life, I fought to scoop bites of it out with a spoon. “Well,” I reasoned, “the farm also grows gourds so maybe this one accidentally crossed with one of them.” I try to play devil’s advocate, but it was disappointing. Ah, but the honeydew still awaited. I love a good sweet honeydew and I thought if it were a fraction as good as it should be, all would be forgiven.

I waited 10 days on the poor honeydew and it never did ripen. Ten days! But it, too, was developing soft spots so I reluctantly cut it and discovered … a multi-color melon. The green around the rind was still three-quarters of an inch thick (which I take to mean it would actually have needed another week or two to fully “ripen”), and that layer was topped with light orange region comparable to – guess what – cantaloupe. The third layer, the heart, was indeed the pale greenish-white expected of a honeydew. And the flavor was non-existent. Half a dozen bites of the heart had a faint trace of something like honeydew and cantaloupe mixed and the rest was simply wet. And tough. So tough I eventually gave in and used a knife to carve the meat up. I was disgusted and ate only one slice; the rest was cut and thrown to mulch.

You can say it was just one farm, just one stand and a bad year and maybe all kinds of produce were cross-pollinating … but I don’t believe it. I haven’t had a good melon from grocery stores in years and roadside stands are hit-and-miss at best. I had hoped a farm stand, from a commercial farm, operating only a few scant miles from the farm itself, open daily, would have melons picked within a few days of being full ripe. Silly me. Why pick them ripe when you can gather them green and let them lay about for weeks on end while endless streams of gullible customers file by?

But more than that is the meat. Granted, the toughness of those latter two melons was unprecedented, but ignoring all that for the moment … where is the sweetness? Melon is a fruit, a sugar-laden fruit at that, and should taste so. It’s called a honeydew because the flesh is supposed to be sweet as, you guessed it, HONEY! What in god’s name have these melons been crossed with and genetically modified by that they can barely be eaten, let alone enjoyed?

I was never a great gardener, by any means, and can in fact unintentionally kill just about any plant known to man, but even I grew better melons than that from volunteer sprouts that came up at the edge of our garden for years. They weren’t great melons but they were good. And sweet. And we enjoyed eating them. And I know if I can (unintentionally) do it from the seeds of store-boughten cantaloupes past, these large commercial farms should have no problem at all producing a worthwhile melon. I realize that the produce needs to be picked green enough to withstand shipping and then lay on display in a store for days for potential customers to browse … but come on. Seriously. This is getting ridiculous.

When I go to the store, the tomatoes are hard and generally pink at best and subsequently all but tasteless. The apples can sit on the counter for weeks and still be bitter when you bite into them. The bananas are so green I’m afraid I’ll die of old age before they ripen. Why are third-world countries eating better produce than we are?

I have fresh-grown tomatoes in the refrigerator, right alongside my fresh-grown onions, and I’ve decided that next year I’m growing my own melons, come hell or high water. And then if they turn out gourd-tough and dirt-bland at least I’ll have tried.

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If you’ve read much of the Science Fiction/Fantasy genre, you’ve probably heard of Orson Scott Card. Probably best known for his “Ender” series (beginning with Ender’s Game), he has authored dozens of books and short stories as well as having worked on scripts, comic book novelizations, video game dialogs, and many other projects.

Buried somewhere in his bibliography, which most people probably scan right by, is a little book called Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus. Classified as an “alternate history,” the story centers around a small group of people specially chosen to go back in time and reduce the nagative impacts of European contact with the New World. It was published in 1996, and I happened to have just finished reading Ender’s Game when Pastwatch hit the paperback shelf in Wal-Mart so I picked it up to see if he was an author worth following.

While it didn’t convince me to follow him as an author, I did fairly enjoy the book. And the older I get – the more I see of the world around us – the more one facet of it returns to me. That small group of people from the future who travel back in time do so because their own time is a dead end. The world has been decimated, and it becomes clear that it can no longer sustain the human populace. Homo sapiens face imminent extinction. But only a few people realize this. Most of the world’s population toil on in complete ignorance.

Sometimes I wonder how near this we are. Eco groups shout doomsday prophecies of global warming; governments and economies fall apart; religious zealots spark worldwide fears; scientists offer a thousand obscure but entirely possible paths to “the end of the world” … but they’re all pretty easy to write off, aren’t they? Nobody believes global warming will wipe out mankind, not even the most hardcore eco-warrior. Governments and economies may fall apart but some form of rule always asserts itself and nuclear armageddon is extremely improbable. And while quasar bursts and ballooning red giants may one day spell the end of this planet, it’s not likely to happen anytime soon.

Despite all the fearmongering, we’re a rather logically placid species. Someone screams that the sky is falling and most of us just look up, squint a little, and wave it off with a “Nah, go have your head examined.” In many ways, I think we feel invulnerable: “it won’t happen, not to me, not here, not now.” We understand that it really can happen, even to ourselves, right here and now, but that’s a bit heavy to deal with in the day-to-day. A little denial goes a long way toward stable social constructs and the perception of safety.

It’s human nature. A lot of people don’t want to know when something bad is going to happen, whether or not that knowledge could change the outcome. Like ostriches burying their heads in the sand, many people prefer ignorance to disillusionment. I do myself, on some levels; if I could un-see certain things, I would. Which brings me, finally, to the point, the question: would you want to know that the world was imminently doomed?

Yes. I believe I would. I would like a chance to atone for certain things and to set my affairs straight. Of course, death may come at any time, so I suppose on a very personal level the threat of doom is always imminent. “Death comes unexpectedly,” the author of Beowulf astutely noted. But perhaps not so unexpectedly on a global scale.

My greatest lament, when the human race expires, is that we were such a blight on this planet. Without us, it was a fertile and amazing world. And yet within a few millenia, an ecological blink of the eye, we managed to destroy, pollute, and otherwise adversely affect every inch of it. I only hope that after we go some bacteria will survive to begin again. Surely not all creatures of “intelligence” are so hopelessly and destructively ignorant.

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