Posted by: atowhee | September 1, 2019


As millions of people in Florida and further north measure their future—living at sea level or moving to higher ground—I am struck by how often our allegedly intelligent species does really stupid things.  Which massive hurricane will be the last before  houses and resorts are no longer rebuilt at an alleged three feet above sea level?  Time to re-define “sea level.” It is not a point on the ground, it is a matter of faith, surely.

Evolution may not actually favor survival of the fittest, but survival of the most pernicious…yet even the pernicious may survive only temporarily.  We now know that at least five times previously some natural occurrence has led to massive extinctions on this planet.  From massive cycads to trilobites to dinosaurs to mastodons, the once mighty have fallen, to be replaced by another round of nature’s experiments. We are now part of the most recent experiment.  Our species seems hell-bent on proving ourselves unfit to live on a living planet.  We have shown ourselves to be self-destructive in fractions and in grand scale,

This past week while moving firewood I found a rat’s nest with three immature still helpless young in it.rat nest (2)  I covered it back over with a piece of wood, trusting momma rat to do the right thing.  I checked 48 hours later–nest still intact, babies moved to new, safer home.  Momma had chosen to move her litter to “higher ground.”  Momma rat uses her mind, her senses, her measure of conditions in the real world and judges what looks safer and thus moves the three youngsters, likely carrying each one gently gripped in her teeth.

There are creatures who do not please most people, but do well despite our enmity.  Rats, crows,  cellar spiders, mosquitoes (who’ve been credited with killing half of all people who’ve ever lived on earth), bedbugs, head lice, starlings, house mice, collared-doves, some ticks, house flies.  Many of them have spread from their original homeland to populate environments shaped by people.  They are adaptable, often cautious until boldness pays a dividend. Rats from a sinking ship is used to illustrate cowardice.  It should be an example of wisdom in the face of on-coming disaster.  Ultimately each of these species is capable of turning its back on people and reverting to a life in the wild should we ultimately fail.  That is their version of moving to “higher ground.”

Meanwhile, the patent fallacy of rebuilding in place re-enacts itself across the globe.  Homes, towns, lives destroyed, but the determination to not move, not give in, not admit that the latest hurricane or earthquake or forest fire or tsunami is not the last–where does that stubbornness come from?  Is it simply the realtor whispering, “That was a thousand year storm, you don’t need to worry now”?  Hope against all evidence and reason?  We now know that our species is not good at reasoning. Descartes would be ashamed to see us now.


So often the apparent stubbornness in our society is combined with a willingness to want to share the blame and courage with an unseen deity.  Is it still possible, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, for anybody to believe or even pretend to believe there is a kindly paternalistic deity somewhere who means well and listens for prayers from billions of people?  Is it a worship-worth deity who constantly kills, maims, tortures and tests us?  Or is this imagined deity just watching this experiment with an indifferent curiosity, to see who dies and who survives? Is it not as likely that any deity really is like our American, self-anointed “chosen one” in that big white house?  Vicious, vindictive, vituperative, venal, self-absorbed?  Which human cataclysm has really turned out for the best?  World War I, bubonic plague, AIDS, ebola, leaded gasoline, DDT, fentanyl, floods, forest fires, cyclones, tsunamis, plagues, bombing Hiroshima, rapist priests, wave after wave of genocide, slavery of all kinds across millennia, true believers on jihad, opioids, hundred-round gun magazines, serin gas?

Rats are realists.   Rats worship nothing more than life itself.  Survival is their deity.  They have no problem moving to higher ground.  If only our species could learn from the rat.

What set me off on all this was not the hurricane or even the rats.  It was listening to this “Freakonomics” radio/podcast hour on human behavior.  A dog person I especially appreciated the interview with Yale’s Dr. Laurie Santos who does research on dogs and how they are better in making choices than some hominids like you and me.  Dogs “read” without needing to learn the alphabet.

Not relevant to weather, but here is example of prayer being used to take focus off a killer’s inhumanity and politician’s refusal to take any responsibility for the U.S. being the world’s civilian mass murder champion.

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