When We Abandoned Eden…

I have written about the ‘abandonment of Eden’ as the time in which our developing, evolving human intellect outpaced and replaced animal instinct as our primary means of interacting with the world around us, particularly the physical world. I have suggested that choosing intellect and self-reliance was something to be celebrated, not to be ashamed of. I’ve suggested before that we were not punished by any Divine by being thrown out of Eden, but chose to leave, that we could not have been prevented from leaving. But then, perhaps our striding willingly, willfully out of Eden also cost us something.

In that time, while we remained animals in form, our minds took us into a place beyond simple acquiesence to whatever Nature/God provided for our well-being: We took the responsibility into our own hands and minds, to provide for ourselves. We entered a kind of species-adolescence, no longer content to be subject to the demands and methods of Nature or the whims of a personal God.

In that time where intellect took over management of our affairs, we adopted some mental/emotional methods of our own to attempt to do what Nature did not: to make life more comfortable, more fair for the individual instead of only balanced on the scale of species. We came up with the notions of morality and ethics, and as we gathered in every greater concentrations we codified such concepts into law: ‘Fairness’ became ‘justice’ became ‘law.’

As humankind complicated simple living into ever more intricate constructs and rules, we had to evolve record-keeping, first in oral traditions, then finally in written forms. We told stories, and then we wrote them down, creating cultural memories with the force of codification. Specialization in certain areas were the beginnings not just of the legal professsion, but also religion: The attempt to codify spirituality. And politics, through written documents codified the consolidation of power of some people over other people.

Underlying all this was what we might consider the conscience of human culture: Morality. Ethics are the rules by which we maintain morality: the ‘how’ of the ‘why.’ Morality and ethics enabled human beings to live together, to establish traditions and habits of behavior and reasoning, to measure ourselves against some kind of greater-than-the-individual and fairly vague standard of goodness/badness, or Good/Evil.

Morality has also evolved as the human species has continued its path towards maturity. In these times, one of the great moral dilemmas is whether it is moral at all to consume the flesh of other animals, and if that is moral, then is it moral to raise animals solely so that we can consume their flesh and use their bodies for our own comfort? And if killing for any reason, but especially for personal aggrandizement, entertainment, and whimsy, is not moral, then is killing evil?

This is the root of the cognitive dissonance I experience when watching those documentaries about the natural world, “red in tooth and claw.” I watch the gazelle, the image of beauty and grace with big sweet eyes, run down by the noble great cat with her own grace and beauty, who has kittens to be fed. I want the gazelle to live, but at the same time, I want the kittens to live. I want to see all the grace, all the beauty triumph. But Nature doesn’t work that way: there are grass-eaters and meat-eaters, and there are scavengers and opportunists, and those who will eat anything.

Is eating the root of all evil?

But there it is: Evil is another of those human moral concepts, just as is Good. They are two ends of a spectrum that exists only in the human intellect, as far as we know, and these are definers of our comfort/discomfort zones. They are not as absolute, ever, as we would like them to be.

So, I watch the cat and the gazelle, and the spider and the moth, the big fish and the little fish. And I wonder, how is it this is not about Good and Evil? How is it not about moral choices and imperatives? How do I see this without the persistant and pervasive force of my humanity?

It is nearly impossible to transcend the limits of what one is. But intellect and mind are so much greater than the physical package they come in. Imagination takes us through boundaries, transcends limits as far as we will allow ourselves to go. So, to some very limited degree, I can see past the human perspective and see possibilities…

We know that animals use senses differently from how we humans do. Starlings can flock in murmurations; salmon can return to the very stream where they first hatched; insects see into ultra-violet wavelengths; elephants communicate in deep sounds below human ability to hear… Many species migrate by paths invisible to human senses, following them for thousands of miles at the right times and seasons. Magnetism has been postulated as a mechanism for such migrations. But maybe there is more: species-memory or in species of more complex cognition, actual cultural tradition?

Can you imagine… that natural, wild animals who still live in Eden, or Jurassic Park, if you prefer that metaphor, are ineffably, literally, awarely linked in a network of all life on the planet? The network of planetary life-energy isn’t hard to posit, part of the same mechanism as instinct that guides animals through their lives.

I am imagining that such connectedness to the natural Whole gives wild animals a very different sense of what death is and means, and while every creature strives to live, the end of life is an acceptable part of living. Therefore, though the body fights to live as long as it can, the Nature-linked consciousness is not traumatized by dying or death.

I imagine, further, that the more intellect a creature commands, the harder it is to maintain awareness of that link, but as long as there is instinct at all, awareness of the link is possible. Higher-consciousness animals–the Great Apes, elephants, some birds, for instance–and those who live domesticated to humans, such as dogs, cats, horses and others, grieve the death of a bonded other. Some humans transcend the antipathy for death that is rooted in our animal/body self.

I believe that such a link explains many of the animal behaviors and capabilities that have mystified human intellect since we turned away from magic and divine whim, and towards scientific and rational explanations for what we see in the world.

While I can’t ‘prove’ it scientifically, it satisfies what I consider my moral obligation to seek truths that fit the patterns and mysteries I perceive.

Finally, this is what we lost by our abandonment of our animal nature: When we abandoned Eden, when we began the subjugation of Jurassic Park, we diminished our personal awareness of our actual connectedness to Providence that was ours in Eden.

In that sense of superiority that came with taking over management of our own affairs, we attempt to fill the empty space of that loss with anthropomorphic notions of how other animals think, feel, and perceive the world: We try to make them more like us because we have misplaced what it is to be more like them.

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