The Slipperiest of Slopes

While unanswered questions are challenging, I wonder if an unquestioned answer could doom the species. Be forewarned, the slope I am about to ascend is so unbelievably slippery, I am frightened to even begin.

For the species Homo sapiens, the answer to most any threat is annihilation. The greater the threat, the more willing we are to use every resource, no matter its cost or unintended consequences to destroy it. Simply fending it off is inadequate. Total destruction is the unquestioned answer.

Does any other species do likewise? Others will do what they can to fend off enemies when under attack, but they use resources readily at hand, and their losses are often substantial; they generally lack the ability to create exhaustive deadly counterattacks. Over the past decade, tens of millions of ash trees (genus Fraxinus) have succumbed to the emerald ash borer. The species was not destroyed by this enemy, but its footprint was significantly reduced. Fraxinus did not muster resources to obliterate its enemy. Over many generations, it will likely develop, through mutations, an effective defense.

Imagine, for a moment, a species that could muster the necessary resources to destroy every threat it faced. Its footprint would continue to grow. As it did, it would require evermore resources. An expanding number of competing species would become threats, and inordinate resources would be put to the task of making sure they stayed out of the way of “progress.”

In reality, not much imagination is required. Enter Homo sapiens. We have a history of vanquishing enemies, those we dislike among our own species, as well as any that threaten the entirety of the species.

Suppose for whatever reason, Homo sapiens was able to defend itself against enemies with resources readily at hand, but never acquired the ability to create exhaustive, deadly counterattacks. Throughout history, viruses, plagues, even other species would have, like the emerald ash borer did to Fraxinus, kept our collective footprint dramatically smaller. Ironically, it is the size and density of the human population that made COVID-19 far more deadly. Because there are so many people, the virus was able to spread more quickly and mutate more effectively. I wonder, if there were 1 billion humans, rather than 7.8 billion, would the virus have had difficulty infecting us so broadly? Might we have had fewer infections and deaths? Might we have developed immunity more naturally and easily?

There is another, more serious irony that stems from the massive human population. A virologist recently predicted we will face a raft of new, as yet unknown, pathogens in the coming years. As we continue to slash rainforests and other natural habitats, demanding resources to feed our insatiable appetite for wealth, safety, and convenience, we will unleash them at ever increasing rates.

One unintended consequence of our refusal to question the annihilation of any and all threats is that we have become the pathogen that threatens every other species. I wonder if Mother Nature is trying to show us the wisdom of questioning our most sacred, frequently employed, and deadly answer.

It is, as I suggested, the most slippery of slopes.

1 thought on “The Slipperiest of Slopes”

  1. What is it about Homo Sapiens, at least in the modern era, that initiates total annihilation of real and imagined enemies? I read recently that the advantage which we have over other species is our ability to share information, to collaborate to solve problems. Perhaps this great advantage has transformed “us” into the cancer-like threat to our own species and to the ecosystem which is constituted by all life…. What if, — in addition to information sharing, we also communicate purposefully as well as involuntarily emotional states? Such has been the case from the beginning when we formed societies no longer confined to villages, but cities which require politics, for their efficient management, and mutual benefit. A leader is skilled at the art of evoking desired emotional response in a population sharing a language and a culture. The advent of 21st century visual media surpasses radio, and television to make this “manipulation” more persuasive, reliable to ensure obedience to causes however absurd.

    And as you mention there is the shear demographic explosion…

    Your “slippery slope” is the observation that humans collectively are killing our host. Since the imagination is insatiable, infinite in scope — is there no escape exit from self imposed apocalypse?

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