April 13th, 2020

Why humans need to eat

One concept which often recurs to me is the "jar of flies" experiment which Jerry Cantrell allegedly conducted in the third grade of school. As Cantrell's later bandmate Layne Staley described it: "They gave him two jars full of flies. One of the jars they overfed, the other jar they underfed. The one they overfed flourished for a while, then all the flies died from overpopulation. The one they underfed had most of the flies survive all year. I guess there's a message in there somewhere. Evidently that experiment had a big impact on Jerry." The latter statement is reflected in the fact that Alice in Chains named one of their EPs Jar of Flies in memoriam of this experiment. Interestingly, this website gives a different impression of the experiment, describing it thus: "Two jars of flies, one with food, the other without. The flies without food ate each other." The truth of the story may have been lost in the infinite amounts of misinformation on the Internet, but even if the story is entirely apocryphal, it still represents an important idea about biology: Overpopulation is lethal, and too much life leads to too much death.

A general principle in our planet's delicate ecosystem is that creatures need to be sparing in how much they proliferate. If they become too numerous, they will begin to choke off their own food supply and start to die out en masse. If you look at nearly any species of animal larger than insects, it becomes apparent that animals reproduce in relatively limited quantities. If you walk through the forest, you will rarely see forest animals, even though they live there. This is partly because they have a tendency to avoid humans, but they could not be so invisible if there were hundreds of them roaming around. Nature is sparsely populated by animals, because food is scarce, even for animals that have adapted to eating plants, and animals can only survive by existing in small numbers. In 2003, the number of wolves in the entire world was estimated at about 300,000, and yet wolves are not considered endangered. That number of people would constitute a medium-sized city at most, and in our age of multimillion-resident megalopolises, it could even be considered a small city. And yet there are that many wolves in the whole world. Do you understand how grossly, absurdly, horrifically overrepresented human beings are in this world?

It's because humans are selfish. They mostly think about survival. They do not consider whether they need to live, or should live; they just think that it's necessary to survive at any cost. And they insist on survival, even when that survival destroys them, their communities, and their planets. That destruction means nothing to them; the main thing is that they survive for another day. When they feel that their life is threatened, that's all they want.

And when they don't feel threatened, all they want is entertainment, amusement, pleasure, and stimulation. They don't consider what they're doing with their lives or why. They don't consider whether they should breed; they breed because they like sex and they like the idea of having children. And so they reproduce, and reproduce, and reproduce some more. The vast majority of human beings willingly choose to be animals, living just to eat and fuck, only pursuing survival and whatever feels good at the moment. And they have convinced themselves they have the natural right to do this, that they were born with the right to live this way.

I used to think about how good life would be if people didn't have to eat. Think how much hunger, poverty, conflict, and despair could be alleviated if human beings could live without having to constantly struggle for the physical means of life. Wouldn't it be better if humans could live without a scarce resource? Now I understand: If human beings could live without food, they would just reproduce even more, and destroy even more of their planet. Animals in the wild usually reproduce only when food is abundant; when food is scarce, they will avoid mating and procreation. Human beings lack this decency, and will predictably continue copulating and reproducing even when they have no way of supporting children. Human beings need to eat because they are an illness, an all-consuming plague, and the only way to limit the growth of any parasitic life form is to starve it by cutting off its source of biological energy.

Of course, human beings being what they are, they would generally reflexively respond to statements such as this by saying "But I deserve to live, because I'm a good person. I am kind to everyone and I live a good life. I'm not like those other bad people you're thinking of". To this, one might pose the question: Do you suppose that you can earn your life?

Another concept which often recurs to me is the chilling questions from The Thin Red Line: "Are you righteous? Kind? Does your confidence lie in this? Are you loved by all? Do you imagine your sufferings will be less because you loved goodness? Truth?" We like to imagine that the universe is just, that it rewards goodness and punishes badness, that good people with loving, kind, and honest hearts will have better lives than evil people. But we know, in our hearts, that this is not true. Our suffering is not lessened by being good people.

I ask myself, then, and encourage you to ask yourself, too: Do you really belong on this Earth? Do you deserve to live? Can any human being deserve the joy, pleasure, and happiness that life can offer? Can any human being deserve the grief, agony, and sadness that life can offer? Do you suppose that if you have tried to do good things with your life, that you have thus earned some measure of happiness? Do you think the world works that way? There are too many people in the world already. What are you and I doing here? What is anyone doing here? Why do we make the decision to continue living? Do we imagine that our presence makes the Earth better in any way?

These are largely rhetorical questions, of course, which means, by definition, that they do not need to be answered: The question itself is a statement, not a call for an answer. But people will answer anyway, of course, because when they feel that their existence is threatened, they will come up with any desperate, insane excuse to remain alive. Don't you?