Putting the ALL CAPS in Human Nature
Last week, the podcast This American Life featured a segment in the episode “If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say, SAY IT IN ALL CAPS” called “Words of Prey”.
In this segment, the narrator tells the story of a man named Jeffrey Brodeur who becomes the unwitting steward of The Woods Hole Osprey Cam, a web camera set up near an nest of ospreys. During his tenure as the unofficial steward of this osprey cam, two osprey occupy the nest and bear three young fledglings.
That’s where things turn south. For whatever reason, the mother of the fledglings (nicknamed ‘Momzilla’) turns on them. Attacking them. Underfeeding them. Pecking at them.
Viewers of the the osprey cam go nuts and, even though Jeffrey is not responsible for the osprey cam let alone the osprey who have taken residence in the nest, they start demanding that Jeffrey to stop the behaviour. To remove the mother. To euthanize the mother. To resuce the fledglings. It doesn’t matter. But someone ought to do something.
Notwithstanding the inherited nature of the role, Jeffrey takes to understanding what’s going on, inquiring with biologists and experts on osprey as to whether the behaviour of Momzilla is normal and what should be done.
The consensus response that he received was pretty unanimous: this behaviour is not normal, but that we should not interfere with nature.
“Do Not Interfere with Nature”
As I listened to this story, deftly executed by the good people at This American Life to engage my emotions, I too felt a yearning for someone to rescue the fledglings. Nature be damned, I thought, all creatures deserve a chance at life. We should interfere.
And I asked myself: why does the answer “let nature take its course” always seem so dissatisfying? Is it because we don’t like the outcome? Is it because as species we’ve gotten soft? Is it because we don’t like the feeling of helplessness that comes with being unable to act?
Or is it because to accept it goes against our own nature?
It is a consequence of many years of scientific and philosophical thinking that, as humans, we see ourselves as distinct from nature. As almost “unnatural”.
We live in the nature world, sure. But we are not a part of it. Rather, some of us destroy the natural world and others of us are the protectors of the natural world.
But why aren’t we, as humans, natural? Why, if Mother Nature’s process of survival of the fittest is considered natural (or in the case of the osprey, the disregard that Momzilla has for her fledglings), isn’t our instinct and desire to protect the young, the downtrodden or the helpless not considered natural?
Sure, the experts tell us not to interfere. But fuck the experts. When was the last time you listened to expert advice and found it to be any more informative, successful or meaningful than advice from Joe Average?
If there’s any hope for our species, our planet and life on earth, then it lies in starting to see ourselves as being natural, with natural instincts, natural emotions and natural ambitions.
So next time your heart tells you something, listen to it and act on it. Even if it conflicts with nature, it is natural. Experts be damned. That way lies grace and maybe even glory.