NOTE: What follows is unqualified opinion and not scientific fact, the thoughts and ideas expressed here are not necessarily represented by the scientific consensus – though some probably should be.
I am a conservationist, a naturalist, to an extent – though never formalised, ever internalised – a biologist. Yet I am a meat-eater, indeed a ravenous one at that and I have been quite clear that I don’t eat anything I wouldn’t kill. Knowing the devastation wrought by intensive livestock farming how do I reconcile this? I shall explain.
I dislike the kind of meandering bores who perceive in the grass beneath their feet the harmless, indeed nurturing, arms of a mother-goddess.
If nature is your mum, she’s fucking abusive.
I don’t dislike people with a healthy love of nature. I love it too.
I love that it’s metal as fuck. It’s sick, it’s brutal and it doesn’t give a shit about you.
I don’t dislike people who believe that there can be connection between person and animal, person and plant, person and…I don’t know…tube worm…Whatever, I’ve no problem with that. I’ve got a problem with people who do not realise those connections are generally based on very real, very pragmatic life necessities. If that plant, that animal or that tube worm could devour you and everything you loved to gain genetic advantage for itself it would.
Think about the person you love most in the world – it could be a parent, a partner or a child – There is not a single living organism on this planet that could not one day evolve to consume that thing you love for its own advantage. Much as we have. Humans like to consider ourselves so ‘apart’ from a nature that we don’t recognise we represent its hypocrisy, its brutality and its self-ignorance perfectly.
That’s why I eat meat. Do I like modern intensive farming practices, no, they’re ridiculously harmful. Do I enjoy consuming the same few cuts of the same monocultured animals, no it’s boring. I want to hunt my own meat, if I’m perfectly honest, and wish we didn’t have ridiculous land laws in this country that prevent me from doing so but for a few accepted species.
Do I find it offensive when someone wants to have a go at some hill-farmer in China for eating a bat and potentially spreading Covid to humans? Fuck yeah I do, because that bat might be tasty, that person might have piss all else to eat and that virus doesn’t give a fuck if you’re a bat or a human it only wants to invade your cells and hijack your genome. Why don’t we have a go at the virus? Or the bat?
I’ve recently been reading Tess of the d’Urbervilles at the request of a friend. I put out a call asking what We Lack Discipline should cover next and she was the only person who cared enough to answer. It’s not my style, I am not well acquainted with Thomas Hardy’s work but I’m not not-enjoying it.
What it presents is representations of pastoralism, that is to say a belief that the rural, farm life is the good life – it has a long and storied history I’ll cover another day – and romanticism. Now, I know ‘romance’ means a different thing now to what it did in the 18th century but needless to say back then it was more about a counter-culture to rationalism and the enlightenment. It was more bonfires and intuition than Bunsen-burners and evidential discovery.
I can’t say that I don’t have a healthy respect for both movements, just as I can’t say I don’t have a healthy scepticism. The farmer’s no use to his flock if he’s dead of heart disease at 50 just as modern medicine has demonstrated the positive effects of grass, flowers, trees and nature on the human organism. There’s a balance.
But one thing Hardy does have, and many Romantics got correct in my opinion, is a healthy dose of brutality, and the effect of that brutality on everything.
This world is the beauty that it is because it is built upon a foundation of use, abuse and decay – Literally. The Earth was barren rock until life started climbing to photosynthesise upon those rocks, the steady death and decay of those organisms formed a substrate we call ‘soil’ that became the foundation of life to come, plants, which would be eaten by other plants, animals, things etc. etc. The whole system forms a chain that all leads back to the brutal reality of use, abuse and decay.
Much as I cannot stand those dove-struck Christians who see nothing but Christ’s love in every butterfly and God’s mercy in every leaf, I cannot stand those fake, neo-pagans who believe the Earth is our cradle, we her swaddled child and she will provide. You want evidence that real pagans don’t think like that read fucking Homer – there are whole characters who are existentialist rants about how we’re toys to the gods and nature.
So right now I want to present to everyone my amazing findings, after years of painstaking research on the fundamental, innate morality of nature.
There is none.
No wrong, no right.
You can ask any biologist, palaeontologist, virologist, any of the life-science –ologies and unless they’ve got their own agenda they will all tell you the same thing. There’s no morality innate in life.
What follows is an approximate, incredibly shortened, and very fictionalised account of how ‘life’ came to be;
In some festering puddle of chemicals a few acids and ribonucleotides found a means of coming together. They came together in such a way that they had, for want of a better term, a ‘will’ and that will was to gather the necessary ingredients around them to make more of themselves.
They did, and in so doing sometimes they copied themselves a little differently and, for some reason, some of these different copies were better at copying than the previous copies.
Eventually some of these copies that were better at copying discovered the easiest way to gather the ingredients to make more copies was to take apart the already made copies less good at copying.
The ones less good at copying had to either quickly change to be better at copying, or be eaten and turned into better copiers.
Those ribonucleic acids (RNAs) became Deoxyribonucleic acids (DNAs) those DNAs built entire machines, bodies, around them to protect them while they did all their copying, to help them copy better and to help them better adapt to the pressure of the other copiers around them.
This is the oldest known example of chemical warfare, it started somewhere between 3.8 and 4 billion years ago and you are merely one of billions upon billions upon trillions of the weapons used in that war. We are developed purely by accident, the only known ‘will’ being to reproduce. If there is an ‘end’ or a ‘purpose’ nobody knows it. I have my theories but every crackpot has their theories. The fact is there is nothing in there, at any point, that innately planted morality.
That’s not some pseudo-philosophical excuse for you to go off doing whatever the fuck you want. Actions have consequences and groups develop morals, cultures develop morals, populations, ecosystems these can all develop ‘morals’. These are systems and rules of living, generally if not in mutual co-operation then at least in a time-share agreement or with begrudging consent. This is why we don’t just go around robbing each other, or stealing each other’s houses. Nature may have no rules or morals, but human societies and cultures do – sure they change, sometimes they’re wrong, but you break them at your own risk.
In a way these groups are liberating themselves from the unashamed cruelty of nature. Because nature, they know deep down, She’s not kind.
In my opinion if you cannot regard nature in her true majesty, as that brutal, abusive mother, you have hardly regarded her at all. The evidence is everywhere. Life subsists on life, indeed cannot subsist without it. Every moment another cruelty, rightly or wrongly, takes place so that one species may eat – though the other dies.
It is easy, behind closed curtains, weather-treated brick walls and pesticides to believe in the beauty of ‘mother nature’. It is easy when you spend most of your time working a 9-5 but then go off to a field for a week of the year to imbibe substances, dance primitively and pretend you’re ‘at-one’ to look upon that primitivism as more beautiful than the artifice we have built around us.
It is easy, through our eyes, to see the harm humanity causes, the resources we exploit and to criticise ourselves, but are we not natural? Are we not merely doing as we do? And when all’s said and done it will take a massive man-made cataclysm to stop life itself, to stop the Earthly genome from spreading anew. When we talk of climate emergencies we perceive the direct threat to ourselves as being just as direct a threat to ‘mother nature’ but it isn’t. She doesn’t care. There are already plastic-eating bacteria, She will persist. It will be us who are gone, our artifice destroyed and reclaimed by what is, by what we choose to keep out, because it is such a threat to us.
What’s beyond that artifice? It’s not just a beautiful meadow filled with pretty flowers. It is death, disease, decay, desire, robbery, cuckoldery, violence, rape and plunder.
If nature were moral she would suggest it is criminal that something as ugly as her should be so beautiful.