For some reason I had decided on fries at the bus stop forty five minutes out of Los Amates, and as the Chapin woman in charge of this food station began to hurriedly scoop them into a small cardboard box, a large roach (well, large for my hometown. Small for around here) crawled out from under the metal pans holding sandwich fillings.
Despite my nausea, this six-legged appearance couldn´t have been timed more appropriately. On the way up to Finca El Paraíso, from which I was now returning, I had shared with my fellow traveler Michelle my thoughts on the conflict between anthropocentrism and the pest-like behavior of my species.
¨What is the meeting place between these two conflicting ideas?¨I asked. I felt like I was on the edge of something big. I had two opposing perspectives mapped out in my head. On the one side is my basic opinion that civilized humans are a scourge on the Earth; we act in many ways just as cockroaches, bed bugs, termites, cancerous cells, or any other infestation of small and noxious creatures does-- over-breeding, over-crowding, and generally polluting our environment with toxic waste, concrete, and plastic.
On the other hand, I love my species, and watching the innocent glowing smiles of Chapin children reaching up through the window of a shuttle (a mini-van designed for maybe ten but filled with twenty or more people, if you include those on the roof) to squeeze their departing relatives´ hands is enough to make my heart ache. This love and appreciation of our species had led many people to believe we are somehow superior to other life on the planet, and, in some minds, not even regular animals but creations of God, made in his image, meant to have dominion over the Earth. This dogma of superiority justifies our endless use of other life and the basic elements of this planet for our own pleasure and luxury.
I knew that somewhere in the friction between these seemingly opposite perspectives was some greater Truth, and Michelle´s response deepened my understanding of this situation, although it turned out to be much simpler than I expected. She said that the halfway point between anthropocentrism and human-as-pest is that we are just animals--not superior, and not inferior, but just animals like all those other animals around us.
Contemplating this I thought it was problematic, because our status as animals, who are therefore natural, has been and is used to justify our destructive behavior as also natural.
What this did help me understand though is why many humans have so much resistance to seeing themselves as animals. In our superior state, there is no point in comparing ourselves to animals, because we are governed by a different set of rules. But if we see ourselves as animals, then we might start to compare ourselves to other animals, and see a lot of room for growth.
We might see how we act as ants, running around in cities barely acknowleding each other, all interactions having to do with the distribution and exchange of resources (commerce), mostly for the queen (the elite few who hold most of the global economy´s wealth). We would see how little of the things we say we value so much about ourselves--compassion, mercy, ability for connection and intimacy-- are actually played out in every day encounters, at least in places that have been industrialized -- ¨developed¨, as the capitalist adherents would say.
We would see how, as Edward Abbey so aptly put it, we have adopted the philosophy of the cancer cell in aiming for infinite growth, and that hoping to colonize other planets when we destroy this one is sickeningly selfish.
I´ve been reading a book involving doing shadow work for the past month or so, although I didn´t bring it with me to Guatemala. The basic premise of this book is that we reject the parts of ourselves that we don´t accept, but this exacerbates them and is one of the main sources of the problems in our lives.
Civilized humans wage war on pests. We bring in toxic chemicals to rid our homes of insects that have found a niche to live in, exposing children and pets to carcinogenic compounds. Then of course we also wage a war on cancer, fetishizing the victims of this civilized disease to distract attention from the cause of it - the poisonous artificial environment we have created for ourselves. I now believe that at least part of why we do this with such fervor is that we are scared of the mirror these beings hold up for us, revealing our infestious behavior.
I also want to add that cities are a special breeding place for many of the creatures that have been labeled as most disgusting. Wherever humans have congregated in close proximity, we have been followed by pests and plagues who thrive in such conditions.
My proposal? First of all, to do the shadow work of acknowledging and accepting the infesting, defiling, verminous aspects of our nature. Once we cease to fear these aspects of ourselves and can look them square in the eye, they will no longer rule us.
Then we can ask ourselves what qualities of we want to cultivate, from the animals we admire. The wisdom of the owl? The profundity of the whale? The grace and joy of dolphins as they leap through the air? Whatever it may be, we have much to learn from the living community of which we are a part, and it is time for us to do so.