Posts Tagged ‘Species’

Save Species By Exploiting Them

August 16, 2015

BETTER CYNIC THAN DEAD.

It’s Not Just A Question Of Saving Them, But Saving Our Mental Potential.

Ah, Cecil the Lion, this blood thirsty monster, with giant fangs, was slowly and cruelly assassinated by an evil American dentist. Let’s cry, say the politically correct. Hypocrisy and false reality are the gifts which keep on giving.

A few days ago, a “Mother Bear”, called “Blaze”, in Yellowstone National Park killed and ate, in part, a 63 year old hiker. When she, and her brood, came back for more choice morsels, inhuman, or all-too-human, rangers shot her to death. Her cubs were sent to Toledo, presumably to learn the Flamenco. Let’s cry, it’s the politically correct thing to do.

Rocks @ High Velocity Is The Compassionate Way To Handle Attacking Predators

Rocks @ High Velocity Is The Compassionate Way To Handle Attacking Predators

[Years ago, the recommendation was to lay prone in case of predator attack; this is wrong: predators don’t like to be hurt, a fortiori crippled. By the way, the largest bears are much larger than described above; some subspecies can reach a ton.]

I read some of the “Compassionate Conservationism” press. They are all over the Internet, including the Huffington Post (of course). The comments posted are bloodthirsty against the killer species, man. If only people stopped killing, everything would be great, they scream.

The “Compassionate” ones are against all and any killing. They are also against all and any suffering. As if suffering was the exclusive invention, and province, of human killers. They are completely hysterical about it, forgetting the following: part of wisdom is learning to not be too easily offended.

The problem is not just that suffering is part of the world, and thus, the mind, in full, as I have argued in:

https://patriceayme.wordpress.com/2015/08/01/why-killing-beauty-makes-sense/

The problem is that the best way to insure no animal suffering in a given species is by killing the species. Thus the truly compassionate are terminators. As all good terminators, they don’t have any inkling of the horror they are visiting on the world.

Where is this going?

Last time we had frantic animal rights people in power, they called themselves Nazis:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animal_welfare_in_Nazi_Germany

This made sense: the Nazis tended to hate human beings. To show that, nevertheless, they were good and their hearts were pure, they disingenuously claimed to love animals to death.

People who are so sensitive and unreal to believe that if only people stopped killing animals, the world would be set right, are neither very capable mentally, nor capable of defending themselves.

But there is even a deeper analysis: remember that death, nirvana, annihilation, is the best way to terminate animal suffering. Thus those who advocate stridently to terminate animal suffering are actually advocating annihilation.

Philosophically, I disagree with them. Socrates said that the unexamined life was not worth living. Indeed. But what is the examination made of? Of the mind, applying itself. And what is the mind made of? Of the world. The fuller the world, the fuller the life. Hence the interest of REWILDING US. It’s not just about them, it’s even more about us.

A life less full in less worth living. The examining mind fosters, and is fostered, by surviving the world in full.

Ecology, in full, is the ultimate capital given to us by nature. It has to be protected, and, in particular, the species do. This means finding them economic utility.

Man-eating bears roaming national parks is no way to encourage other human beings to visit the parks, or making people feel warmer and cuddlier about bears.

The 63 year old hiker was “experienced”, said the National Park Service. Although he did not carry bear spray (so the “compassionate conservationists claimed he was at fault).

I carry bear spray when in grizzly country, and nearly used it once against a charging moose (with calf). Charging moose with calf kills more people than grizzlies in Alaska. The calf slipped and fell, and I was able to skirt that unbalanced duo through small diameter trees (having made the theory they would hinder those gigantic quadrupeds). I was not at fault: I had stopped, one hundred meters away, and waited calmly for those ferocious beasts to get off the trail. But, half an hour later, they did the Mohican hairdo thing, lowered their ears, both well-known ominous signs, and charged me casually.

In most of the Alaskan temperate jungle, the safety bear spray provides with is illusory: vision is extremely limited by an exuberant vegetation, with giant leaves, you would smell the bear before you see it!

Half-Ton Bear, Flying To Your Annihilation. No Beast That Could Survive The Genus Homo For Millions Of Years Is Easy Game

Half-Ton Bear, Flying To Your Annihilation. No Beast That Could Survive The Genus Homo For Millions Of Years Is Easy Game

Bears charge at 20 miles an hour through thickets, that’s a problem. Bear spray also has a guard and is cumbersome: one cannot spent hours with a finger on the trigger. (Bear hunters in the past used dogs, who provide warning, or stick to open country.) Black bears are also very dangerous: they can kill and eat humans, where they think they can get away with it. I have been charged by black bears more than once, and had to go full prehistoric, even hitting a bear with a large rock, with drastic effect.

The way to handle dangerous predators is to collar them with GPS, and have professionals track their activities. You want some employment for the future? Here is one of them! One should make an app giving the location of the ferocious beasts. The National Park in Banff, Alberta, already handles grizzlies that way when they approach inhabited areas.

If we want to save nature, we have to endow it with economic utility. This is the highest morality. Let me repeat slowly: if we want to save nature, all of nature, we have to endow nature, all of nature, with economic utility. This means, in particular rewilding. However, rewilding does not mean that human beings ought to be made fair game.

Quite the opposite. The essence of humanity is that human beings are not fair game.

We own this planet, all of it, and our minds depend upon that. Saving them is about saving us, but it cannot come cheap, so we have to redefine what is expensive, and compassion is one of those values which have to be redefined.

Those who claim animals deserve as much, or more, compassion than human beings are either not honest, or mental weakling whose logic will never stand the heat of reality. They bestow nature a disservice, by brandishing useless, self-defeating, narcissistic self-admiring considerations which aim at befuddling the cosmos.

Not feeling the pain we deserve to make us whole, is a pain we can’t afford.

Patrice Ayme’

CRUELTY AGAINST BIOSPHERE

June 16, 2012

DON’T JUST DEPLORE, RESTORE!

Highest Form Of Cruelty Cynically Fixed, If Need Be.

***

Abstract: As Wikipedia puts it: Cruelty can be described as indifference to suffering, and even positive pleasure in inflicting it. If this habit is supported by a legal or social framework, then it receives the name of perversion.” Several species disappear, each day. The biosphere has clearly entered its sixth great extinction, in 500 million years. And it’s caused by just one species, us.

Usually people evoke, a la Cousteau, the prospect of the sad, uninteresting world that their grandchildren will inherit to give themselves some moral spur to save the biosphere. This is a valid argument, at least to people who care about their grandchildren, real or imagined. 

But there is a more fundamental moral question.

Is it CRUEL to be indifferent to the suffering of the biosphere? Is destroying the biosphere a perversion of the degeneracy of  civilization that affects us? And if it is, why should we be surprised that this cruelty, once fully exercized and in great shape, does, of course, come out somewhere else, here, there, everywhere, to exert its horror on all things human?

There is a solution to the deterioration of the biosphere: restoration, on an industrial scale (you want to lower unemployment? Here you go!). Restoration does not mean just asking the Indians to save Asiatic Lions, the Chinese to save the Pandas, and Africans to be trampled by elephants. It means for the richest countries to take the burden directly, even more so.

To restore the biosphere is not just an esthetic and hedonistic necessity, but also a socio-economic necessity. Beyond this, restoring crucial elements of the life we are meant for, is a moral necessity, a psychological necessity, and even a neurobiological necessity.

The perverse society plutocracy is pushing on us is enabled by a loss of moral and common senses, both originating from cruelty against the biosphere.

(As I will hopefully explain in this and a companion essay.)

***

CAN THOSE WHO ATTACK MOTHER EARTH FEEL GOOD?

Cruelty against various species is often condemned. However, although great prayers evoking lofty principles are always good, they can also immunize against effective action, by replacing the humble, mitigating task by self satisfaction. The sad fate of individual animals should not be used to occult a much more ominous fate, the assault against life itself.

That assault is fundamentally immoral, and that immorality has drastic consequences. They lay at the bottom of the present socio-economic crises, as I will show in this essay, and the next.  

Some will say:”Wait a minute, which moral system are you using? Certainly not Judeo-Christo-Islamism!” Ok, first there is no doubt that religions and moods such as found in the Indian sub-continent, all about the inter-connectivity of lives and life, have more expertise in their appreciation of the wealth of the biosphere. Spinoza and Schopenhauer, even Nietzsche, infused Indian thinking into their Western brew (since their thoughts are derivative, I will ignore them).

As my attack against Jainism below will show, I present as all encompassing a moral system closer to that of “First Nations“.  I don’t know of a name for it, but it’s the simplest thing. Maybe I should call it paleolithic morality.

“Mores” means long term habits, ways of doing things, which have proven sustainable.

So morality is what works in the long run for the continuation of the human experience.  Anything making human life unsustainable is immoral. Certainly the destruction of the biosphere qualifies as the ultimate immorality. Because without biosphere, man dies. And when everything dies everything, and everybody will suffer. And the indifference to that is the definition of cruelty.

Thus one can say that cruelty against various animals generalizes to a much higher form, CRUELTY AGAINST THE ENTIRE BIOSPHERE.

Instead of hounding businessmen who want to make a buck from the biosphere, much salvation, especially regarding the preservation of species, could be found, by carefully turning greed on its head.

Example: To save elephants, as a species, one should use their two greatest assets, and those are tourism (of course)  and…ivory. Otherwise elephants will disappear, because common people need very good reasons to learn to manage their lives with up to 11 metric tons beasts around, those mountains of irascible flesh capable of charging at 40 km/h through rice paddies (yes, there is native rice in Africa).

Making the biosphere profitable, by investing in it, is a high moral calling.

And if it means unsavory means, so be it. After all, people are known to go to the euphemistically named “restroom” everyday. The biosphere may be a temple, but Aztec style, with lots of blood. Invest in the biosphere, as it is, avert your senses, if need be.

***

AUSTERITY DOES NOT WORK: DEPEND, SAYS THE BIOSPHERE!

Many ecologists have an anti-technology, anti-passion approach to the biosphere. They think AUSTERITY (that concept again) will solve it all. There is a Jainist side to them.

Jainism is the original version, 3,000 years old, of fanatical pacifism and ultra Buddhism. Its main idea, as practiced by its monks, is to have no dependency whatsoever. No dependency to love, even to their own parents. No dependency even to appreciating food, which is viewed only as a necessary fuel, as bland as possible. No dependency even to clothing, so they wear strictly none.

That works better in balmy India, rather than Siberia.

Jainism is superficially impressive. Its (naked) priests were already well known to pre-Socratic Greeks (who called them “gymnosophers“, that is the naked wise ones).

The silence of Greek philosophers is deafening. It’s not that the Greeks were afraid of nakedness: they exerted in the nude (gymnastics!). The Greeks could only feel that Jainism was mostly wrong. First because it denies the nature of Homo Sapiens, Earth’s ultimate predator. So it’s make belief. Even the rice the Jainist monks eat comes from violence. If Jainist monks want to be involved in absolutely no violence, they better stop eating. However, they would then commit violence against themselves. Jainism is a religion which tries to make us believe that lions can be angels, if they would just beg for grass and stop wearing clothing.

As a semi anecdote, Hitler wanted to be seen as a man of peace. That is the angle he found in Maynard Keynes’ “The Economic Consequences of Peace” (a German supremacy document that alleged that anything causing Germany umbrage was against peace!). So Hitler adopted the most sacred Jainist symbol, the Swastika (changing its red color to black, and putting the red around in a creative fit of his).

The fundamental intuitions of Jainism that we can just disconnect from the world, and that this is a good thing, are wrong, on both counts.

A baby depends upon love and adults, for years. All Jainists who ever existed started with love and dependency. Even Jesus had to acknowledge he needed a support system, when very little.

Of course one can deny co-dependency, and believe one is better than anybody else, that’s what the Nazis did, on an industrial scale. But that means one is either incapable of thinking correctly (co-dependency is a fact), or one hates all and any life. The Nazis proved both phenomena can happen at the same time (and Merkel is trying her best to demonstrate the same point again).

But that’s a mistake, austerity is anti-life, dependency the way, the biosphere is about exuberance, passion, experiments. Life is about the Red Queen Hypothesis (Alice asks the Red Queen why they are running the landscape does not move, and the queen explains they have to run, just to stay in place). Don’t go Jain on us, that’s what mussels do, and we are not mussels.

Life is all about maximum interdependence, no holds barred, it’s about bursting out of the biosphere, and death itself (French researchers just found that muscular stem cells keep the entire rebirth capability, 17 days after “death”, and out of one of these apparently dead cells, a million new ones could be born).

The most developed world should reintroduce dangerous megafauna. A new industry, another new way to fight unemployment (same as the old one, during eons passed, when the genus Homo was already the manager of life, at least on land).

***

THE SUFFERING MOON BEARS: YES, BUT HOW MUCH?

I had not heard of all the charms of Traditional Chinese Medicine. However Sherryn Groch revealed to me in “Raging Against Cages”  an industry that I never suspected existed: extracting bile from caged bears. One gram of bile sells for $20 (that is half the price of gold)… Here we have a piece of nature with a high market value. From the BBC’s China bear bile farms stir anger among campaigners:

“In a secretly shot video, a Chinese farmer holds up a bag of yellowish bile he has just extracted from a caged bear.

“Some Westerners say this is cruel – but I think the bears are making a contribution to mankind,” says the grinning man.

Animal welfare groups have recently stepped up their campaign to end the practice of milking bears for their bile, still legal in China. They say the animals suffer enormous physical and psychological pain.

But bear bile has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for hundreds of years and it is not proving easy to change habits formed over generations. Pharmaceutical companies that farm bears are also fighting back to protect their industry, in a public relations battle to win hearts and minds.”  

Sherryn exhibits gruesome cases, which could clearly be outlawed for extreme cruelty against an advanced animal, the Asian Black Bear (“Moon Bears“).

Sun Bears, and the much larger Moon Bears, are tropical bears, all black, except for a big white crescent moon on their chests. Animals like these are part of the megafauna, and, as man replaces primary forest everywhere with furniture, palm plantations, asphalt, they are threatened with extinction.

Outlawing all and any bear farming is very honorable, at first sight, a bit like when Gandhi proclaimed that he did not want India to take part in World War Two. A honorable end: peace at any cost.

Never mind that if Hitler’s henchmen had their way, they would have stuffed the likes of Gandhi in an oven. If the means destroy the ends, are the ends worth pursuing?

Indeed, there is another side to the whole question. The Asian Black Bears are a “threatened” species. Yet, officially pharmaceutical companies in China hold 10,000! Some want to hold even more, and be listed on stock exchanges.

Says the BBC: “…. [a] company opened its doors to journalists – the BBC was not allowed in – to counter claims that its business is cruel.

Reporters were shown bears playing in a pit and others being milked for their bile by workers dressed in face masks and protective clothing. The bears appeared comfortable and unconcerned by the procedure.

At a news conference, company director Zhang Zhijun said making a hole in a bear’s abdomen was no different to “piercing people’s ears”.”

The notion that the pain can be so small should be judicially explored. If it is demonstrated, then the business ought to be tightly regulated, but kept legal. And I am going to explain why.

***

SAVE PRESTIGIOUS SPECIES BY CAGING THEM IF NECESSARY:

A few years back, a company asked for authorization to farm a nearly completely disappeared species of sea turtles. They intended to grow thousands, although only a few hundreds were left in the wild. As the mortality, in the wild, is more than one adult turtle for 1,000 baby turtles, from predation, it’s easy to save sea turtles, if one raise them on a farm. They were refused. (I did not follow the story after that.)

Generally conservation organizations make the silly argument that it is more important to save the environment, and that, if one saves the most prestigious species in captivity, people will be less motivated to save entire ecological system. (Merkel makes a similar argument: better a dead patient, pour encourager les autres.)

However this is exactly how the California Condor was saved. Instead of waiting for the South West USA to return to wilderness, state conservationists captured all the condors, and bred them in captivity. They are now back in the wild, over several states. (Still dying from lead pellets, though.)

I do think that one should encourage the (as non cruel as possible) farming of some species threatened by extinction presently (say some sea turtles, sharks, etc.). As is done with some saurians (there are highly successful crocodile farms; crocodiles in farms are so well nourished and content that they do not practice cannibalism, differently from their common practice in the grand outdoors.)

I do not mean one should kill dolphins, because they are good to eat. Japan should stop killing whales. One should draw the line somewhere, with sentient animals. (Although I have seen Africans butcher dolphins, as they have always done traditionally to feed themselves; they should be allowed to keep on doing so, under legal monitoring, as is done with “first nations” Arctic hunters and sea mammals).

The case of elephants is different: dolphins or whales are innocuous to humans, and do not live where people do, whereas elephants, who are as intelligent, need another reason to justify their encumbering existence, in the midst of humans, because they are very dangerous, if not carefully managed (that means half domesticated; wild elephants can be domesticated, they are that intelligent).

In general saving prestigious species helps to remind common people how prestigious the environments they came from, as a species, were. Thus reintroducing the prestigious species is conducive to re-introducing said environment. For example California is making efforts to be ecologically correct enough so that condors can survive. Little things, such as leaving enough carcasses.

***

THE GREATER CRIME: EXTINCTION.

There are three crimes often committed nowadays against the animal kingdom:

1) the cruelty to individual animals. (Princeton philosophy professor Singer has waxed lyrically, not to say rather grotesquely, on the subject, with the base, not to say deranged, argument that, since people are animals, animals are people. Or something akin to that.)

2) the cruelty to the biosphere, by amputating it of its species. If one thinks about it carefully, literally, etymologically speaking, exterminating a species is genocide (it kills genes!). Some will say I torture semantics, but, if one insists to torture the biosphere, the following will happen:

3) inuring ourselves to being cruel and devastating to the biosphere, and the termination of species. That will make the commission of genocide something normal. We will start with bugs, and, when we run out of bugs, we will treat human beings as we treated the bugs (yes, this is a reasoning similar to Singer’s, and Singer falls exactly in that pit, like the mammoth he is). Call that psychological inertia: commit cruelty here, consider it normal, carry it somewhere else.

2) and 3) are arguably higher category moral wrongs than the cruelty against individual creatures. It’s torture against creation itself.

Farming wild species may often be the way out. For example, saving rhinoceroses by large scale farming beats the disappearance of the species, anytime. As it turns out, rhinoceroses readily domesticate (they were even used militarily, because they are highly combative. ).

Farming wild species may also necessitate saving enormous areas of wilderness (say if one were raising elephants for ivory). Hunting ranches in Texas are said to have more of some subspecies of tigers than there are left in the wild.

Another example is Spanish fighting bulls used for corrida de toros. They constitute a breed of their own. To cultivate their ferocity, they are brought up wild. For human reasons (bullfighting is cruel, at least at some terminal point, for beast, and, or, man alike) corrida may well be outlawed (as it just was in Catalonia). Then the breed will certainly disappear.

In general species without any commercial interest whatsoever may well disappear. Better sell a sea turtle soup, than to see the species the soup is made from, disappear forever.

A related activity would be to displace threatened species to places where they would have much more room. My preferred example would be to transfer surplus zoo Amur leopards to Yukon national parks (reducing if need be the local mountain lions’ population).

In conclusion, developing commercial interests to save elements of the biosphere is not crime, but virtue and (short term) solution.

Reciprocally, preventing the rise of legitimate, lawful, well regulated businesses, augments even more the commercial value of organized crime, and is leading to the present disappearance of many species.

***

NO DANGEROUS LIFE WITHOUT HIGH INCENTIVES:

The main reason Asian Black Bears are eliminated is that they are very dangerous. They are known to attack people without provocation, viciously and lethally. As someone who got charged twice by black bears (in the American West), and had many all too close calls (as a solo mountain runner), I can testify that only lions I fear more (OK, I have never run among grizzlies, and did not try it when I could, fishing proved dangerous enough).

If Asians are not given very good pecuniary reasons to keep dangerous predators around, they simply will not. True there are lots of national parks in the USA, but they are mostly in the empty west, and the really dangerous predators, such as grizzlies, and the equivalent of tigers and lions, have long been eliminated. The progressive return of the wolf is highly resisted.

Large animals tend to be deadly. A small, 5 kilogram shark is not a problem. It is a problem when it is 100 times more massive. The lethality of some species calls to actively manage them, and thus to make them profitable to:

1) pay for said management.

2) give a considerable incentive for the population to live cautiously, if not dangerously.

Elephants in Sri Lanka constitute a particular subspecies.  Under human pressure, they have quickly become smaller in the last two centuries. Without careful management, they are terrifying, and dangerous neighbors.

There are at least 5,000 elephants, there used to be 15,000 two centuries ago. They particularly like the rich alluvial plain, best for rice farmers and their families. Often girls come back from school and have to stop before getting home, terrified by a trumpeting band of irate multi tons quadrupeds in the distance. More than 100 elephants a year are killed to protect crops and houses. Their habitat is extremely fragmented.

An extensive government monitoring and teaching program, complete with frightening pachyderms at night with firecrackers, has established some modus vivendi. However, that program is expensive, and will survive if, and only if watching elephants can be turned into such a profitable tourist activity, that it pays for itself. Blatantly.

***

RESTORE NATURE AS IT EVOLVED TO BE. IN GIANT PARKS EVERYWHERE:

Speaking of elephants brings attention to the hypocrisy of much of the North Atlantic countries will be exposed. Large species related to elephants, mastodons and mammoths, used to roam present say NATO. Agreed, they were a threat. But also a resource. NATO now has the technology to enjoy the resource, and keep the threat in check.

There used to be mammoths, wooly rhinoceroses, and elks with antlers 3 meters across all over Europe. Men eliminated them all in the last 14,000 years. The extermination started with the (giant) Cave Bears, about 50,000 years ago. Thank the Neanderthals for that.

Up to 3,000 years ago, European Lions were still found in Western Europe. Aurochs survived until the 17C. Lions and tigers were still in the Caucasus-Caspian area up to very recently. The Atlas lion, a larger species, survived until the 20C. Poison nearly completely eliminated Brown Bears in Europe (the ancestors of American Grizzlies), and wolves (who are coming back, big time).

So is Europe going to show the way, and re-introduce what it used to enjoy? Real big dangerous animals? Experiments in France (reintroducing prehistoric horses and bison) show that nature becomes completely different, taking more the appearance of a park, like the African savannah park (for the same reason). 

Homo sapiens has eliminated megafauna on most continents. Australia had many large animals (marsupial “lion”, marsupial “rhinoceros”). Men arrived by boats, killed them all. Ever since Australian ecology has been out of balance (in spite of dingoes to play predators).

Notice that the usual anti-idea that the climate fluctuations and attending vegetation change truly killed the megafauna do not hold for Australia: the extent of glaciation in Australia was rather reduced (to put it ironically). Verily, it’s the other way around. It is likely that killing (most of the) megafauna changed the vegetation, and maybe even the climate.

Exterminating “lions” allowed the cattle to multiply. This is what Neolithic herders wanted. However, differently from lions (previously the most frequent species, as they eat everything, from rabbit up), cattle make a lot of methane, CH4, the powerful greenhouse gas. Thus the first man made greenhouse. It may have prevented a return of a little glaciation.

It’s high time to reverse all this, and restore megafauna. Before being able to re-create the original species, stand-ins ought to be brought in. Elephants and rhinoceroses have been suggested for Australia, be it only to reduce the (African) Gamba grass (a giant grass, meters tall, made to burn spectacularly. I have seen some of these brush fires in the park-savannah).  Australia had a full megafauna, with rhinoceros sized “giant wombats“, and predators to control them. It disappeared 50,000 years ago, as Homo Sapiens invaded (that disappearance led, in turn, to climate change… this, please notice, is the exact opposite to what Conventional Wisdom is paid to babble about).

The full panoply of prehistoric animals ought to be reintroduced, say in Europe. OK, none of the ancient animals has been yet recreated, using genetic engineering (although some Japanese have just such a plan for mammoths). However some animals close to extinction such as the Amur Leopard, the Siberian Tiger could be reintroduced in safe places, along the lines of the reintroduction of the California Condor.

And yes, some of these places ought to be in Western Europe. Britain could start by reintroducing the wolf, exterminated in the 17C (the UK has signed a treaty to this effect, but “forgot” to implement it).

***

RESTORE THE HUMAN MINDS, IN FULL:

Why should we restore wild nature? As I said above, to abate cruelty, restore morality. However it goes much further than that, as I evoked in the abstract. That will be the second part of this essay, where spectacular connections with neurobiology, neurohormonology, institutional cycles, and the present civilizational crisis will be established.

***

Patrice Ayme

Species, Niches, Cultures

December 9, 2011

SPECIATION COMES FROM NICHES, BUT THOSE CAN BE SELF CREATED.

***
 The diversity of species is much greater in the tropics. How come? The main reason is obvious: species get periodically vacuumed in the high latitude regions, by ice and cold. This has various notable consequences. Especially in the cultural domain.

 One has to remember how speciation happens. Speciation is a discovery that Darwin made explicit in the Galapagos archipelago, far from the South American continent. Species of the local birds had evolved from a common ancestor, a kind of South American finch. More than a generation before, Lamarck has studied various invertebrates (a word he coined), and their fossils, to show that the species had evolved over the eons, and thus that the Earth was immensely old (something that made a huge scandal at the times, at it was more in tune with Indian than Christian thinking). 

 (The theory of evolution itself, and especially evolution by natural selection was old, and its original authors were Maupertuis, of the Least Action Principle, writing 120 years before Darwin, and Lamarck, who, as a research professor in biology, another word that he also coined, could lay it thick; Darwin’s refining observations were decisive in the Anglo-American empire, though. Just as French physicists developed Newtonian mechanics in the 18 C, English evolutionists, especially Wallace and Darwin, developed the French breakthrough work of the preceding generations in biological evolution!)

 The following became clear: once introduced to a new ecological niche, a species will evolve anew. Biological species tend to be optimal for their inheritance in symbiosis with the environment they also inherited. That is why species such as oysters, sharks, turtles or crocodiles, did not change much in more than 100 million years: they were optimal, and their environment did not change. Crocodilians are the picture of perfection: not only they munched on the last dinosaurs, but recent discoveries have shown that, in some dinosaurian environments, crocs were already the top predators.

 Change the environment they are made for, and by, and suddenly species are not optimal anymore. They are forced into the survival mode. Then naturally occurring variations present an advantage or disadvantage relative to the new environment, and evolution happens again. And it happens all the faster, the greater the difference with the previous environment is. 

 Hence environments with many new ecological niches will create many new species. So the question becomes: why are there more niches in the tropics than in the cold regions? Well, one has to realize that the question is asked in space-time. History matters. When a niche changes, a species can resist through mini adaptation, while, simultaneously, the throttle of evolution is open to the max. But nothing can force all individuals of the suddenly inadequate species to evolve fast and far. Some will just make do. Thus outright new species can evolve, while versions of the old still cling around.

 In Australia, a lone, extremely ancient eucalyptus was found in the mountains. Some suggested it was the oldest individual plant in the world. That plant was, and it is, the oldest, and unique, representative of its species. The species had evolved when the climate was much colder (during or before the last glaciation). Somewhere else in Australia, in an isolated, secret canyon, in the Blue Mountains another species of pine trees, long disappeared elsewhere in the world, was also found (now they are for sale worldwide). Those plants survived to the disappearance of the niches in which they evolved long ago, through luck or happenstance (a particular canyon with special circumstances throughout history).

 Australia did not have a very cold climate, even during the worst glaciations, due to its overall location (and it drifted there from the polar region while Earth climate was much warmer). If Australia were a subpolar island, all its trees and animals would have been wiped out during great glaciations (as they were in Antarctica, which used to be joined to Australia). Under milder conditions, Australia would have been recolonized by distant trees from tropical areas: genuine Australian trees would have disappeared during a cold episode.

 Another example: trees grow again in Greenland. Trees have grown in Greenland for dozens of millions of years, but all the species of Greenland trees were eliminated when Greenland was covered by ice. If Greenland had been located next to New Guinea, it would have maybe even more species than the land of Birds of Paradise (I say “maybe” because, although Greenland is bigger, New Guinea, the wrinkled forefront of the Australian plate, has higher and larger highlands, which creates a lot more environmental niches than one would expect from a place of that size; there are isolated sky islands in New Guinea, surrounded by steaming jungle, with, of course, their own species).

 So it is in all regions that icecaps and glaciers could trample in the last four million years: cold hostile to life wiped biological evolution out clean, periodically. For example sequoias were eliminated from Europe: the slow moving trees (trees move as a species), got blocked by glaciers, and destroyed. This because mountain ranges are mostly east-west barriers in Europe. In California, they survived because the ranges are mostly north-south.

 This is nothing new: many dinosaur species evolved in very high latitudes, where their adaptation allowed them to enjoy the polar night. That was when what are now subpolar regions enjoyed a tropical climate (when crocodilians thrived in Greenland). The distant ancestors of mammals, the mammalian reptiles, evolved in very cold climate, so they evolved strong thermoregulation. This came in handy when drastic changes occurred 65 million years ago. Said change has long been viewed as an asteroid strike. But it is unlikely that an asteroid strike would have struck all dinosaurs, and all dinosaur-like sea reptiles, while leaving mysteriously mammalian and bird alone.

 Whereas, obviously, episodes of intense cold and heat could have had that effect. Dinosaurs had poor thermal regulation, but also high metabolism (differently from birds, which evolved from them; birds have higher temperatures than mammals). Crocodilians, turtles and sea snakes could survive, as they have lower metabolism: when it gets cold, they just stop moving, a luxury dinosaurs did not have. Of course, the colossal Dekkan Traps eruptions, by covering entirely the planet with clouds, while poisoning air and seas with CO2, fit the crime perfectly.

 So what I propose is simply that, as glaciations fluctuated dramatically, conditions in the tropics also fluctuated dramatically: for example the Amazon suffered droughts. This created niches (however transient, they were long enough for species to evolve). However the conditions never fluctuated so much as to lead to complete extinctions, in the tropics. As conditions changed, species tended to adapt, and new ones evolved, thus leaving a patchwork of diversity behind… At least in species which can exist in great numbers, such as insects.

 Not so in subpolar regions. In subpolar regions, intense cold periods happen, and during intense cold episodes, all species get killed (at least among plants and insects). When conditions become mild again, the regions are reconquered by survivors from the tropics (much of which became a temperate zone during glacial maxima). A similar mechanism could have demographically flood Neanderthals in suddenly warm interglacials.

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EXTINCTIONS AS A DRIVERS OF EVOLUTION:

 If an extinction occurs, it is probably because all the ecological niches were changed at once. So all species are not optimally adapted anymore. Some will resist in micro niches (as crocodilians, turtles, etc. did), some will evolve drastically (as birds and mammals did after the Cretaceous). In the end more species will be created, and they will compete with the old ones, so, in a sense, in the average, they will be improved, or at least the adaptability of the entire ecosystem will be greater (some of the old will be around, some of the new too).

 It is not excluded that the dinosaurs disappeared through such complicated mechanism: after an initial ecological shift, the competitivity of small mammals, or birds, may have been improved (as their personal dinosaur predators went away, say), and they may have been free to eat larger dinosaurs’ eggs, etc.

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WHY EUROPE BECAME SO SUPERIOR INTELLECTUALLY:

Europe is assuredly the largest expanse of greatly interconnected peninsulas, islands, mountain ranges, lakes and seas in the world. An enormous set of potential ecological niches. Some could brandish the Arctic archipelago of Northern Canada, but first, well, it’s frozen, and was completely covered by an ice cap for most of the last three million years, not a situation conducive to any sort of biology.

 Indeed, European geography is at mid-latitude, with an oceanic climate rendered mild by the Gulf Stream (which has transported tropical water towards Europe, for millions of years, since the Americas became one, and the currents changed). During the worst glacial maxima, Southern Europe was still ice-free. With mountain ranges and flowing waters everywhere, this labyrinth of ecological niches was excellent for evolving many species.

 And so it was with evolving many cultures later. The many environments in Europe allowed for evolving many cultural species. That was helped by trade, of goods or ideas, using the ubiquitous waterways. Some of the old stuff survived and transmogrified. For example, many ideas of Zoroastrianism have become part of the mental skeleton of the Enlightenment. The ideas went west by 3,500 kilometers, and in time by 3,500 years.

 (Europe is geographically defined, linguistically, humanly, commercially and physically, as roughly the Western part of Eurasia, west of the Himalayas and the Urals; India is also part of that ensemble, consecutively to conquest and colonization, about 3,500 years ago, and subsequent continual and extensive exchanges. Yes a vast steppe corridor starting in Hungary, goes all the way to Mongolia, and was always there, hence the many visits of various Mongols to Western Europe, all the way to Orleans…) 

 Compare with the entire African coast, North and West, which has only a handful of natural ports, on maybe more than ten thousands kilometers. Whereas the European coast is covered with possible ports, each ready to serve the local ecological and cultural niches with trade. Look at the Croatian coast: from far away, rather short. However, from close by, a length of nearly 6,000 kilometers, and thousands of islands. Similarly Greece or the British isles each have nearly 15,000 kilometers of coastline. And Norway, with all its fjords, more than 100,000 kilometers! This sort of extremely detailed geography and imbrications with water, allowed for extreme diversity and exchanges of very differentiated goods. Compare with the Sahara desert, with a handful of oases on an area greater than the USA (full disclosure: my first memories are from one of them, the amazing Gardahia). 

 Just an example: a small part of the Italian coast, facing the island of Elba, and endowed with natural ports, was rich in extravagant ore deposits. Especially iron. This attracted, among others, the Etruscans.

 Thus, without the wealth of iron, Rome may never have been. Verily, the long standing half joke is that the Roman peasants learned all what they knew from the Etruscans… And, later the Greeks. By the way, that grafting of a higher culture on the more simple minded may explain why Rome evolved down the blind alley of over-exploiting others, instead of developing its own deep ideas… As the Franks did, when they took over in 486 CE. 

 Some will scoff about claims of European superiority and diversity. But little known are the basic facts. For example the Celts had developed technology which was in some ways superior to Rome (and in 399 CE, the Roman republic did not get annihilated, just because the Celts condescended to be paid to go away from the Latin capital that they were occupying; the superiority of the Romans laid in the institutions of that republic). The Celts were probably the first to make fleets of thousands of boats to conduct intense systematic trade, and a polity of sorts, over an ocean (the Atlantic). 

 European diversity was a strength, as long as it did not explode into devastating conflict. After the Celts subdued the Romans in 399 CE, some marched on to present day Anatolia. They refused to submit to Alexander later. Notice that it  would have been a much poorer world if the Celts had destroyed Rome in 399 CE (as they probably could have, had they been meaner). True, the Romans conquered the Celts, but they did not destroy them: in 400 CE, the bishop of Lyon (Lugdunum, capital of the Gauls, just supplanted by the Parisian capital of the Franks), preached in Celtic. Thus a Gallo-Roman mental ecology had established itself, where many of the best ideas of both had thrived, while terrible ones (such as Celtic sacrifices) had been snuffed.

 Europe may want to remember all this, the richness of diversity, as it tries to resist homogenizing plutocracy, be from Russia (where filthy rich strongman plutocrat Putin accused Hillary Clinton to have caused the arrest of thousands of Russians, by giving a mysterious “signal” which made thousands of Russians whine in unisson), or with the so called market (intent on berating France and Germany, while lauding financially much worse, Greece like Great Britain, because the latter’s government is plutophile, thus a friend of the slave market).

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SUPERIOR MINDS, HOW THEY EVOLVE, WHAT THEY FEAR:

 Thus one will acquire a mind endowed with more, and superior ideas by varying one’s environment: the more mental niches, the more ideas can adapt to them, the greater the chance to develop superior ones.

 I guess that is the idea behind having scientists travel all over the world to conferences where they meet each other. Although, of course, this may lead to homogenization, not speciation! To have speciation, one needs time to evolve separately, otherwise one will be thrown back with the blob, as one more undifferentiated piece of the blob.

 Speciation in the realm of ideas is why greatly original thinkers go to the desert, to avoid too much mental entanglement with the commons. That is why Montaigne called attention to the necessity of the Ivory Tower, to think deeply, quietly, and from above. Great minds cannot blossom, if they mix too much with the stupidity of what was long viewed as true by common invertebrates.

 Thus, in these times of budgetary restrictions, and considering the existence of the Internet, I would suggest that scientific conference budgets be reassigned to the rescue of scientific experiments (which are threatened, especially in astronomy, the part of physics which has brought most of the spectacular experimental results of the last 50 years). In general, the requirements of scientific careers are little conducive to originality, and groupthink is to be feared. 

 To pursue the analogy further, if ideas evolve in mental niches, what would be the equivalent of life killing cold? Well, intellectual fascism, glacially crushing all in the way. 

 Intellectual fascism could be the Roman attitude to slavery (the foundation of the economy, with the large slave enterprises of the empire, such as agribusinesses). Or it could be the social and economical devastating Christian philosophy (for example Roman Catholic Christians believed it was wrong to kill highway men, so highway robbery, being unpunished, exploded to the point that Roman roads could not be used anymore, and public order collapsed). Mao and company made the point that Confucianism was a form of intellectual fascism which had paralyzed China for millennia. And indeed they introduced communist forms of thinking which had evolved in the French niche. The French communist, not to say Communard niche. 

 The most famous intellectual fascism is Islam, a superstition which has the arrogance to claim the entire public sphere for itself (which is what Christian bishops did in the West around 400 CE; however, as Christ had very loudly ordered to separate Caesar from God, and thus soon the bishops, after trying their hand at dictatorship for a while, decided to outsource government to the Roman army, by then reduced to Imperator Clovis’ Franks). 

 Groupthink was not our ancestors’ forte. After all, our very distant ancestors were lizards who colonized subpolar areas: they were not held back by the prospect of a career among the multitudes, quite the opposite. To be different, and go where no lizard had been before, urged them on.

 And so it did, even before that, for the first fishes which followed plants on land. We live on a planet where life itself is teleonomic: it looks forward, at a distance (tele) and finds out what can be changed, or, at least, managed (nomos), to invade further. This goes against the philosophical grain of Jacques Monod’s “Chance and Necessity”, which makes a big deal that life is not teleonomic. But, just as in physics there is something called “Effective Quantum Field Theory”, so should it be in philosophy: if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, flies like a duck… It should be a duck. Life is an adaptation machine. 

 That is why probes to Mars are carefully sterilized; experiences have shown that some bacteria can survive in space. Of course, space is not a niche where bacteria evolved, but some can survive there. So it is with ecological diversity (bacteria may find harder to survive a glaciation than interplanetary space). Evolved in a particular niche, a species can survive independently, as long as a big bad glacier does not come its way, crushing all in the way.

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LIFE DOES NOT JUST ADAPT, IT CREATES, EXTINGUISHING SOMETIMES ALL IN THE WAY:

Minds and lives were made by wasting the environment, and make it more complicated, make it at their service ever more. 

 Life changed the atmosphere of the planet by replacing its reducing atmosphere into oxygen laden air. Many suspect that this biological change brought “Snowball Earth” episodes, by knocking off greenhouse gases and replacing them by a nitrogen and oxygen mix (around 700 to 600 million years ago). The fist evidence for Snowball Earth were traces of glaciers in the tropics, at sea level. Later life adjusted itself to provide itself with a more comfortable environment (yes, adjustment does not necessitate consciousness). 

 Biological complexity has inertia. And biological complexity represents immense riches, because life forms have evolved many systems to handle the environment, countless environments, past and present. As the plutocrats ravage the planet, and biological diversity, we thus see that riches is not what they are truly after, whatever they claim. 

 What Pluto, the Dark Side of man, is after, is the illusion of the domineering self, because it has not embraced diversity. So it is with those who rule according to him, and his principles. When I speak about the illusion, I know what I mean: John Corzine, past head of Goldman-Sachs, past Senator of the USA, past governor of one of the richest states in the USA, New Jersey, has lost one billion, two hundred miilion dollars: Corzine went in front of Congress, to “apologize, I simply do not know where the money is”. He was playing with Italian debt. 700 trillions of credit swaps out there. Or maybe more, or maybe less. It’s all about illusions. Except for the Italians or American farmers whose money Corzine and his accomplices have devoured.

 The USA is under the illusion of energy independence, because frantic fracking is quickly augmenting the fossil fuel and gas production of the country. Damn the water table. Damn the CO2. Full fuel ahead! The oil crats of the USA are in heavens. So the USA has been blocking progress towards an effort to mitigate climate change (in a disingenuous ping pong with China, for the third climate conference in a row, one more illustration of the collaboration of the American and Chinese plutocracies). Hey, once again, never mind that the EPA has found what everybody knew, that fracking devastates the “vital groundwater” (with CH4 at saturation, benzene at 50 times maximum, and the Ph of bleach). OK, that’s in Wyoming, who cares?

 We may not want to indulge in near extinction, as during the Snowball Earth, before we can adjust to our new found powers (some of them powers of illusion). After all, some of us are conscious, endowed with our own personalities, even our own ideas, and we may be teleonomic enough to manage at a distance what is ahead without getting crushed by it…

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Patrice Ayme