The abrasive fact that the numbers of African elephants are in catastrophic decline is often talked about in many coffee shops and backyard conversations.
“I read an article about how the elephants are becoming extinct,” I say to a friend. I blow into my coffee, cooling it down.
“Yes,” my friend says. The edge in her voice is unmistakable. She collects elephant figurines. “It’s so frustrating! And that damn president and tearing down the EPA! And those big game hunting sons of his!”
“I think all the politicians need to be replaced!” I take a cautionary sip.
“Seems like the world has gone crazy!” She eyes a buttery muffin delivered to the table next to us.
We finish our coffee and part. I have to pick up the kids and shop for the week’s groceries. It is truly insane, the elephants’ impending demise, the hateful nature of today’s politics, the tens of thousands of starving children and grandmothers across the seas—all while Russian and American billionaires decide who will lead us and pay for the decisions those leaders will make.
We seem to be moving faster and faster towards some dark place, some senseless point of no return—but during the week I don’t have time to consider the insanity of a system that doesn’t leave me time to consider how insane it is. Maybe this what the spinning wheel of karma is about, mindlessly going around and around in a no-win loop-the-loop.
After reading the article about the elephants’ approaching extinction, I took the kids to the zoo. I wanted to remember how majestic they were. I watched a couple of the large animals, beyond the imposing barrier the zoo put up to keep me safe. They were just standing there, not looking around or doing anything in particular—like they were done with being majestic.
I had a funny thought while watching those listless, giant beasts. The only thing that placed me on the open side of that barrier was the higher cognitive firing of my frontal lobes and the clever use of my opposable thumbs.
What was funny, in a sad way, was that my cognitive superiority had actually trapped me in a different type of barrier, a constricted worldview that considers my lifestyle choices more important than the lives of elephants or the ecology that keeps us all alive. This seems insane. Doesn’t it? What do we expect for our children’s future from this mindless gobbling up of life that we do?
There’s a new word floating around: speciesism. It’s the assumption of human superiority that leads to the disregard and exploitation of other species of Earthlings. The timeworn religious teachings use an older word for this: dominion. This worldview of dominance doesn’t take into account the Jenga-like design of our ecology. When you start removing pieces, the whole thing will soon come tumbling down.
The unconscious willingness to thoughtlessly destroy such large swaths of life, only to enable our own voracious and unbalanced desires, is born from fear. We are afraid of changing the way we live, of losing the freedom that our self-ordained superiority and entitlement supposedly gives us.
By using that same higher cognitive functioning that we use to ensure our continued dominion and mindless lifestyle choices, we have the ability to recognize the mental illness inherent in our current system of species supremacy. We can see how our lifestyle choices cause such imbalance and destruction in our world if we can gain the courage to look.
We can choose to make harmonizing with the living systems of our planet a priority above our lifestyle choices. This is a sane thing to do. I know that the kids would appreciate it. They hope to have kids of their own one day, who might get to enjoy the majesty that is now waning on our wondrous and much-abused Earth.
Those in power of our insane system want us to be afraid of change, to fear the responsibility of becoming good stewards instead of dominators. There is greater profit in domination for billionaires. I don’t believe those in power care whether my children’s children will get to experience the majesty of Earth or not. Stewardship is not their bottom line. But I care.
The article about the disappearing elephants also pointed out ecological devastation that animal factory farming creates and how it is a major cause of the mass extinction, mass deforestation, and the increase in greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere. One pound of beef requires 1800 gallons of fresh water, 12 pounds of grain, 35 pounds of topsoil, and the energy equivalent of 1 gallon of gasoline. It seems our value meals that are so convenient have a much greater cost than I realized.
It’s really about making a personal decision for stewardship, despite the societal system of excessive consumption and domination currently in place. I can choose to make returning the majesty of Earth a personal matter. I can give it a higher priority than my family’s current lifestyle choices and we can make new choices…at least part of the time.
Despite my fear, I made a change. And I feel better for it. I only bought half a week’s worth of cold cuts and cheese for the kid’s lunches, and only enough pork chops and ground round for three dinners this week. We’ll have dinner at my mom’s on Sunday, some fancy casserole no doubt. But for the rest of the week, we’re going to eat as if the majesty of Earth has a higher value than our excessive lifestyle. We will enjoy plant-based meals that don’t rely on animal factory farming for their recipe—meals that are more balanced with the healthy functioning of our ecology, which is what gives us life. And I know I can make them taste great!
It’s a small thing but it feels better than just talking about the tragic loss of the elephants as merely another topic at the coffee shop, along with the latest antics from our silly president and the crumbling EPA. The loss of the elephants and its greater message of our Earth’s weakening ecology seems so much deeper and more important than anything else going on. Maybe it’s time we time we step off that spinning wheel to nowhere.
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