From chapter "Conquest"
Here’s another fairly typical argument: the plow was the greatest invention of all time “not because it makes all else [sic] possible, but because it single-handedly diverted the direction of the human race to a wider degree than anything else.” Or, “I have heard it argued convincingly that the greatest invention ever was the plow. It allowed us to have surplus food, which allowed armies, priests, scientists, builders, just about everything [sic].” Just about everything, that is, except peace, which it makes impossible; and justice or even survival for those about to be conquered or exterminated; and sustainability, which, like peace and justice and the survival of the victims, was for this culture never even a consideration.
Please note again that it’s just plain wrong to say that the plow “allowed us to have surplus food.” Don’t you think an entire river full of salmon is more food than local humans (or bears, eagles, ravens, trees) could eat? Why doesn’t that qualify as “surplus food”? Prior to the plow, the world was already full of food. It just wasn’t under human control, or more precisely the control of an elite. It was available to humans and non- humans, without regard to any individual or collective human wealth. This means that within this culture that is based on authoritarian technics, not only won’t these wild food surpluses be considered real—the only real food surplus, like the only real meaning, is one humans create and control—but worse, that these other communities that provide these food surpluses must be eradicated in order to maintain control of human populations; how are you going to force people to work for you if they can find food, clothing, and shelter on their own? All of this means that, as is true for innovations, food (or other) surpluses that contribute to democratic social structures will be undervalued, privatized, exploited, and destroyed. Food (or other) surpluses that contribute to authoritarian social structures will be lauded as innovations, cultivated, and controlled.
So, if you think the diversion of much of the human species into a direction that is ultimately going to kill the planet (but allow the richest of humans to have lots of “comforts or elegancies” in the meantime (while their human and nonhuman slaves lead lives of grinding immiseration)) is a good thing, the plow is your invention. Likewise, if you think armies, priests, and scientists are good things on their own, or in any case are worth more than the liberty and lives of all those harmed by the entire agricultural technics, then the plow is for you.
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You could argue that it doesn’t matter how destructive and disastrous plows and agriculture (or other authoritarian technics) have been for the entire planet. They have helped human populations to expand, and they have helped “push wolves, bears, tigers, and other wild beasts out to the wild and woolliest fringe places of the world.” That by itself means we’re smarter and superior; were we not smarter and superior, we would not have been able to conquer and exterminate them. They would have conquered and exterminated us. In this sense, far from arguing that the destruction of wild places doesn’t matter, the argument would be that this destruction—this conquest, this transformation—is actually a sign, if not the sign, of our intelligence and superiority. Which is the real point, and has been all along. It’s also, ultimately, the argument that underlies and is the real reason for all of the other arguments for human supremacism.
Both intelligence and superiority are here conflated with conquest and murder. But that only works if your definition of intelligence or superiority means not only acting atrociously—might makes right; might makes intelligence; might makes superiority—but also greatly decreasing the capacity of the planet to support life. By which I mean not only nonhuman life—which, at best, doesn’t count to human supremacists, and often is considered pestilential—but human life, as well. I know there are a lot of humans alive now, but what do you think will be the human population when the oceans are dead?
Recently Richard Dawkins said he believes humans have a 50 percent chance of surviving this century. The tools of science, he says, have enabled scientists to create weapons powerful enough to kill all humans; his fear is that religious fundamentalists will get ahold of these weapons and use them (never mind what capitalists already do with the weapons science has provided for this culture’s war on nature). If we choose as our “sine qua non of behavioral intelligence systems” “the capacity to predict the future; to model likely behavioral outcomes in the service of inclusive fitness,” would creating tools that are powerful enough to destroy life on the planet—or at the very least, all humans—not, in all truth, disqualify us from being considered intelligent? Actions leading to a realistic chance of driving your own species extinct (and taking down much, if not all, of the planet in the process) clearly are not “in the service of inclusive fitness.”
Dawkins is not alone in perceiving humans as causing their own near-term extinction. Stephen Hawking has famously remarked that in order to keep from driving ourselves extinct, humans need to colonize space.
The real point, apart from Hawking’s appalling and sociopathological—and completely typical for this culture—lack of concern for everyone else on the planet, is that even though he understands that human behavior is killing the planet, he refuses to question human supremacism, or the right of humans to murder every known living being in the universe. Him and just about everyone else in this culture.
A couple of years ago a mechanistic scientist said to me, “The miraculous explosion of knowledge these past few centuries since the industrial revolution is almost—almost—worth the cost in terms of environmental destruction.”
I was horrified to hear this, not only because he ignored the knowledge lost as this culture eradicates Indigenous human and nonhuman cultures—as scientific knowledge and power have increased there has been a consequent and easily predictable decrease in other forms of knowledge, such as, for example, that knowledge held by and contained in passenger pigeons and the humans and nonhumans who relied on them—but also because of his clear expression of a human supremacist perspective; I’m guessing that passenger pigeons and the forests who depended on them would not so readily agree that their own eradication has almost been redeemed by the increase in scientific knowledge and power wielded by industrial humans.