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Macondo

I used to live in a room full of mirrors
All I could see was me
Well I take my spirit and I crash my mirrors
Now the whole world is here for me to see

-Jimi Hendrix

It would be easier for me to tell inquisitors I can’t have children instead of honestly asserting that I don’t want them. Then they would give me looks of compassion instead of looks of confusion or judgment. People rarely question those who have children because parenthood is considered a sign of maturity, an expected phase of life, and a gift to potential grandparents. However, it is the assumed virtue of having a family that merits skepticism.

There is no doubt raising moral and successful children is a consuming, life-changing challenge. Successful, involved parenting is  also much better than negligent and/or abusive parenting. I also immensely respect parents who take the time to raise adopted or disabled children, especially if they are capable of having biological children.

In short, parenting dominates a dedicated parent’s thoughts, emotions, finances, and daily routine for several decades. It is a lifelong sacrifice, and there are many  parents who give up their personal desires for the good of their children.

Like any relationship, however, the benefits follow a two-way street. Children make parents feel needed and significant. When a vulnerable child depends on its caregivers, it can provide a powerful ego boost for parents. They also give parents the reassurance of passing their genes and/ or traditions down the generations. Furthermore, raising children is a way to vicariously re-live the simplicity and curiosity of a child’s perspective. This is especially appealing when it’s through the adorable eyes of a reborn, pristine version of oneself.

While it takes a nearly endless amount of work to bring up children, it is an easy path to take. This is partly because society views parenting as an altruistic tradition to inevitably follow. With children, parents have to put in less effort in creating and pursuing their own goals; at least part of their life’s purpose is laid out for them.

In spite of encouraging moderation most other human endeavors, organized religion also incites people to propagate freely. Evidence also indicates that religious people reproduce far more than non-religious people. Not only is having children viewed noble, but it’s viewed as sanctioned by God for many people. This predetermined purpose gives parents a feeling of accomplishment without requiring any particularly unique talents.

Furthermore, having a somewhat simplified goal in life also provides an isolating cocoon around parents. It limits the scope of their concerns. Their priorities are supporting and protecting their own close-knit genetic clan, and few things outside of this realm are as important. In fact, being an attentive parent, however laudable that may be, is a valid excuse to avoid the rest of the world to some degree. They simply have fewer resources to achieve their own goals and aid the efforts to address the complex, long-term problems that plague our planet.

On the other hand, those who choose not to have children often face pressure and judgement from family members and peers. They don’t benefit from the same tax breaks that parents do. They can be labeled as as selfish, immature, and/or cowardly. And in spite of how legal it is, requests for sterilization  can be denied by doctors based on biased, subjective standards. Some single, childfree women face workplace discrimination because their employers don’t give their time off as much credence as they do to women with children.

In spite of the cultural stigma against childfree living, there are no currently tangible negative consequences to abstaining from reproducing. There are, however, several negative and destructive consequences to creating more humans on Earth. Compared to other species, humans consume the most resources. This is especially true for Americans. For example, the mineral usage of each American alone is overwhelming:

According to a 2009 study, the carbon impact of just one child can make 20 times more greenhouse gas than a person can save by recycling, using energy-efficient household products, and driving fuel-efficient cars. Every American child will add approximately 9,441 metric tons of carbon dioxide to our atmosphere.

Due to our increasing population and energy usage, Earth has been in a state of ecological overshoot since the 1970’s. This means that the demand humans place on the Earth’s resources is more than the Earth can replenish. We live in ecological debt.

Human overpopulation is a contributing factor to this state. There are currently about 7.2 billion humans on the planet. This is the highest our population has ever been, and it is predicted to continue growing. At this rate, about a million babies are born every four days, and another billion humans every 12 years. This growth in living tax deductions can’t be paid for with the real wealth they require: resources.

Our population is having a significant impact on the biodiversity of our planet. Other species are dying off at alarming rates due to habitat loss, pollution, and mass slaughter. Half of the world’s wildlife has disappeared in a mere 40 years due to human activity. This  grim reality also applies to invertebrate populations.

species_condoms (1)

We share the planet with many other living beings besides humans, and many of them play a significant role in making this planet so conducive to life. Trees significantly reduce air pollution. Rain forests regulate our climate and prevent soil erosion. Bees pollinate flowering plants to help provide us with about one-third of our food. Plants in the ocean also produce half of the world’s oxygen.

In short, our destruction of various ecosystems is making Earth a less habitable planet. In fact, scientists have already asserted that humans are responsible for the ongoing sixth mass extinction on Earth. Ironically, we don’t hesitate to control the populations of other species or limit how many resources we take.

While having children is seen as a sacrosanct sacrifice, it is often a self-serving sacrifice that many fail to recognize. Involved parenthood can be a way to retroactively look at a fresher version oneself in the mirror. Bringing up children is one of the most common and accepted tools in the ubiquitous art of avoiding oneself and the world.

And considering the facts on the world’s state at present, excessive reproduction (having more than two children) is an irresponsible endeavor laced with narcissism. If billions of us continue the parochial pursuit of getting lost in our genetic reflections, then the Earth will find its stern way of showing us that it simply cannot make ends meet to support our collectively fatal vanity.

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Of Mice and Men

On December 4th, 2014, a New York court unanimously ruled that a chimpanzee is not entitled to legal personhood. This was a disappointing but not surprising loss for the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhrP). They were representing on behalf of Tommy the chimpanzee. Tommy is held in capitivity by his owner Patrick Lavery in New York, and The NhRP wants to fight the notion that it’s legal to hold a chimpanzee as a pet and establish basic rights for our closest genetic relative.

The court, however, ruled that it would be “inappropriate” to grant the rights of a human to an animal. Patrick Lavery said, “I just couldn’t picture any court granting habeas corpus for an animal.If it works for one animal, it works for all animals. It would open a can of worms.”

This ruling and derogatory language illustrates two assumptions: 1) humans are not animals, and 2) other animals are inferior to humans. While it may be understandable that we as humans hold these views, they merit questioning.

There is little doubt that we are likely to be the most complex and intelligent species on this planet. We have things like art, music, religion, tools, language, the scientific method, technological advancement, complex government, etc. And our appearance is different from most other animals: we don’t have fur and walk upright. We even make sure to remove and style some of our body hair.

But there are several human behaviors that we share with other species. Elephants mourn their dead in a ritualistic manner, dance to music, and have the dexterity in the fingers of their trunks to pick up a needle off a flat surface. Some penguins practice prostitution. Chimps embrace each other, kiss on the lips, and use tools for different purposes. Gorillas and orangutans can communicate using sign language. Some ants have extremely complex social systems.

Chimp hug

Furthermore, we share a significant portion of our DNA with other species. Humans and chimps share 98% of their DNA. We also share 92% of our DNA with mice. This is part of the reason they are used to conduct research. While their biological makeup isn’t identical to humans, there is enough in common for us to gather some reliable data when it comes to studying diseases that plague humans.

Ironically, when there are mice in our homes, the human instinct is to get rid of them because they can carry contagious germs. Yet the research that we  do depends do our inherent commonality with them; this has helped us save human lives with penicillin, insulin, and research for treating breast cancer, meningitis, etc.

Sadly, while our common genome with mice benefits us, it hurts them.  We see them as carriers of the plague, but these unfortunate test subjects often endure cruel and painful experiments to help us treat our own diseases. There is a benefit for humans, but their lives are plagued by us treating them as beneath us when in fact they are our relatives.

The Nonhuman Rights Project seeks to address some of this issue by first establishing basic legal rights for highly intelligent animals like chimpanzees. Chimps are also social and self-aware. In spite of this, they can be treated like property under the current law. Solitary confinement is considered one of the most torturous forms of punishment for a human being. But for a chimpanzee, isolated captivity is perfectly legal and acceptable.

Tommy

When Patrick Lavery says it’s opening a can of worms to give legal rights to animals, he forgets that our legal system has already been applied to one animal: Homo Sapiens. The notion that humans are the only species deserving of legal rights stems from an outlook known as human exceptionalism. This idea asserts that humans are the most important species, and other animals are resources for profit, consumption, and/ or ownership.

Another part of this mentality is pretending we aren’t animals. Lavery’s words demonstrate this. Unlike humans, animals are only concerned with food, sex, reproduction, and territory. We humans have an exceptionally obsessive relationship with food. We have myriad restaurants, cooking shows, eating disorders, recipe books, junk food lobbies, food-centered holidays, etc. Food is a ritual around which socialize and conduct business.

Furthermore, how much of our lives as humans revolve around sex? Whether it be thinking about it, trying not to think about it, getting it, filming it, watching it, having it, doing it differently, denying it, condemning it, talking about it, having it again, advertising with it, etc, it plays a ubiquitous role in our lives, and that is an integral part of being an animal.

Consequently, our rate of reproduction is also unparalleled among other primates. There are currently 7.2 billion humans, and projections estimate that there will be 9.6 billion of us by 2050 and 10.9 billion by 2100. This number of humans is unprecedented in our history, and it’s connected to our possessive nature when it comes to fighting over and establishing territory. Much like our chimp relatives, humans are inherently violent. We are in a state of perpetual war, and any superficial study of history shows that fighting over land and resources is as natural as breathing for Homo Sapiens.

Not only do we excel at battling over land and resources among ourselves, but our expansion has brought on the habitat loss and extinction of many other species. Half of the world’s wildlife has disappeared in the last 40 years. Some of these animals have been alive for millions of years, and their demise is being brought on by our growth, butchery, and pollution in a mere handful of decades. All these human characteristic are evidence of our dominance as animals; this dominance does not exclude us from being animals.

It’s unclear as to what we think we are when we’re humping our significant or not-so significant others. Or when we’re waging yet another war over territory and resources. Other species don’t have God, books, computers, etc. These distinctions are ways by which we can convince ourselves that we’re not part of the animal kingdom. However, the fact that our experience is more complex doesn’t make us any less animal. And deceiving ourselves into believing otherwise reflects the extreme arrogance that is human exceptionalism.

With all of our intelligence and technology, we still lack the tools to fully perceive and extract this pervasive paradigm from our society. This self-deceptive disconnect allows us to feel entitled to our apex position on this planet. But what if another species eventually comes along with only 2% more complex DNA than ours and holds us as captive pets like Tommy?

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Achievement Unlocked

The European Space Agency (ESA) landed a probe named Philae on a comet for the first time in human history this week. It took 10 years for Rosetta to reach comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

One of the objectives of the mission to to learn about the origin and of the solar system and possibly life on Earth. Scientists also want to observe the comet’s nucleus and coma from close range. This mission will give them the opportunity to study the changes in cometary activity when its closest to the sun and when it leaves the inner solar system.

Sometimes it’s easy to criticize our species for its mistakes and weaknesses. But accomplishments like these remind me that homo sapiens are capable of amazing endeavors:

Welcome_to_a_comet700

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Badass

CuriosityVoyagerCassini

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Thousands of Words

Elephants Awesome lions picture

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World Contraception Day

Today is World Contraception Day. In honor of this under appreciated concept, I will share a PSA that seems like common sense but is unfortunately viewed as heresy by a significant portion of the human population:

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Guts

Today in Pakistan ten men have been taken into custody, and they are said to have been connected to the attempt on Malala Yousafzai’s life in 2012. They shot her in the head and injured two of her classmates. Miraculously, she survived and has used her story to advocate for education and nonviolence.

She is an articulate and courageous young girl who has the guts to stand up to the Taliban and tell President Obama about the negative ramifications of using drones against terrorists.

It’s questionable whether or not members of the Taliban would be arrested at all if they had attacked an unknown person. But it shows the power that a worldwide story can hold if the word is spread. It’s one of the redeeming qualities of social media and news.

She’s also adorable, and watching her interview with Jon Stewart kind of blew me away: