ABOUT EARTH AT FIRST SIGHT
Phil Johnston is a professional wildlife tracker, photographer, nature writer, outdoor educator and musician. He lives in Humboldt County in far Northern California where he works for the Hoopa Valley Tribe as the Mountain Lion Biologist.
Since the invention of agriculture humanity has blazed rapidly, boldly, and perhaps blindly down a trail that is completely new to Planet Earth, and maybe the galaxy or even universe. There are no traditions or historic precedents that can be relied upon to guide us now as technology and global connectivity fundamentally change the boundaries of the human experience. But while the world around us changes so dramatically we, biologically, have not.
Though we are loathe to admit it (evidenced by thousands of years of anthropocentric religions and philosophies), we are in fact still animals - cut from the same cloth as the pumas and beetles, warblers and dolphins with whom we share the Earth. But old habits die hard, and our society still largely disregards the biological nature of our brains, the context in which our species evolved, and how this determines what is and is not fulfilling, enriching and invigorating for the creature that we are. Perhaps if we can finally let go of the ever-alluring notion that humans are utterly unique, separate and special, in a class above all other animals, and endowed with unmatched reason and objectivity, then we can learn how to play to our strengths, acknowledge our weaknesses, and avoid things that cause pain and anguish and limit our ability to enjoy life (working 8 hours a day in a cubicle for example).
The argument is beginning to be made by respected scientists and authors, Robert Sapolsky and Yuval Noah Harari perhaps most prominently, that the civilization we have created for ourselves is, in effect, a bad zoo. The Animal Welfare Act of 1966 (AWA) legally requires that captive animals are provided with "...a physical environment that promotes the psychological well-being...", but humans, with our reason, discipline and objectivity, are expected to use our brains and will-power to somehow find happiness in our cubicles. If a dog gets restless in a house, we happily take it for a walk. If a child gets restless in a classroom, we scornfully prescribe them mind-altering drugs. We are not treating ourselves humanely.
And the most obvious tragedy of our "bad zoo" is that we become blind, or at least numb, to the glory of the human experience, to the mysteries of the universe, and to the breath-taking beauty of Planet Earth. Imagine you had a chance to take a space shuttle to a newly discovered planet rich with diverse, abundant, and beautiful alien life, water safe for you to drink and air pure for your lungs. Would you go? Welcome, my friends, you are here.
All images and videos copyright Phil Johnston 2019