Thursday, January 6, 2011

Prophetic Words

Alfred Russel Wallace, on the beauty of wildlife in exotic locales:
"It seems sad that on the one hand such exquisite creatures should live out their lives and exhibit their charms only in these wild inhospitable regions...while on the other hand, should civilized man ever reach these distant lands, and bring moral, intellectual, and physical light into the recesses of these virgin forests, we may be sure he will disturb the nicely-balanced relations of organic and inorganic nature as to cause the disappearance, and finally the extinction, of these very beings whose wonderful structure and beauty he alone is fitted to appreciate and enjoy. This consideration must surely tell us that all living things were not made for man. Many of them have no relation to him. The cycle of their existence has gone on independently of his, and is disturbed or broken by every advance in man's intellectual development; and their happiness and enjoyments, their loves and hates, their struggles for existence, their vigourous life and early death, would seem to be immediately related to their own well-being and perpetuation alone, limited only by the equal well-being and perpetuation of the numberless other organisms with which each is more or less intimately connected."
Wallace is quoted in Iain McCalman's excellent Darwin's Armada.

8 comments:

Michael said...

We try to help, don't we? Problem is that when we decide to protect "endangered species" almost invariably we're the reason the species is endangered.

Archaeopteryx said...

You can leave out that "almost." I can't think of a single example of a species that's endangered and the reason isn't human activity. I'm sure they exist, but...

Thomas Paine said...

Well, no doubt a few species were endangered to the point of extinction before the appearance of humans on this earth, but I can't think of any of those currently endangered for whom human activity is not the primary reason.

Aaron said...

I would say that the problem is that we, as a species, don't believe Wallace when he says: "This consideration must surely tell us that all living things were not made for man."

The overarching collective "we" protects things that we have a use for. People are freaking out over the loss of bees because we realize that we could likely face mass starvation if there's not reliable way to mass-pollinate food crops. But I suspect that much of that concern will vanish the moment we find a replacement.

As long as the value that we place on the natural world is linked to its perceived direct economic value to us (and this pressure will only grow over time as human population builds), we'll continue to drive things to destruction.

But that's all part of being the single best competitors on the planet.

Archaeopteryx said...

Aaron, you said a mouthful. Unfortunately, I'm afraid a majority of people don't see any value for nature except monetary. If not for that, we'd probably already have paved the Amazon.

MichaelRyerson said...

daveto's recent ranting reminded me of this post. funny.

Isonomist said...

Wow, it must have sucked to have that forward thinking mentality back when the White Victorian Male ruled the world.

Archaeopteryx said...

Yeah, but on the other hand, think how great it was to be a white male...