Episode 12: The 0.01% and the two wolves


Hi friend,

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about a powerful minority, a minority smaller than the 1%:  the 0.01%. The image that keeps coming back to me is this: if we’re all cells in a giant organism, then the only way to describe these 0.01% of cells is “a cancer”. They quickly accumulate resources even when that accumulation comes at the cost of extinction of other species.  They jealously hoard the resources, refusing to share even if there are other parts of the same organism that are starving and dying. They don’t want to share because it’s inconvenient. They would have to cut back on their lifestyles, which are filled with such luxury that medieval kings would be jealous. They wage war on each other, and the planet, they see themselves as creators and gods rather than successful members of a global community. They are completely detached from that community, they see themselves as above and beyond it. They reason that while they may have once, a long time ago, been part of that community,  today, they don’t really need it. It should be privatized and bear its own costs. What they don’t own isn’t worth owning, yet they still want more. They are the de facto apex predator on Earth, because most of them get away with pretty much anything – except maybe killing one of their own. But anyone considered beneath them? Fair game. Sure, if they are found torturing some lesser animal, like a dog or a pig, they would probably face consequences. Yet these elite individuals are even too cowardly to do the dirty deed themselves, afraid to get blood on their hands, and so they pay someone else to be the executioner. 

Do you think me harsh? Do you think I’m exaggerating? Or can you picture the individuals I’m talking about?  

I wonder, did you see yourself there? Because it’s humanity I’m talking about. A research paper came to the conclusion that humans make up 0.01% of life on Earth. That fact brought back a scene from The Matrix in my mind, when Neo is taken prisoner by the Agents, and Agent Smith tells him:

I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you’re not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You’re a plague and we are the cure.

I didn’t like that scene during any of the seven times I saw it in the theaters back in 1999. While pretty much everything else in the movie seemed to (and indeed, did) hide a profound truth, this scene felt like a lie to me. I saw the beauty in humanity. I did not feel like a virus. No, that was just humanity seen through a lense unable to see souls. Yet our souls haven’t stopped us from committing genocides, against each other and against whole species of living beings. According to World Economic Forum, we slaughtered 2.8 billion sentient animals in 2014. Few of us had the guts, or skill, to to that deed ourselves. Instead we pay middlemen and middlewomen to do our slaughtering for us. We are like mad King Joffrey’s, claiming that we love animals, while asking the butchers to slaughter them. To make our cognitive dissonance easier to live with, we call cows “beef”, baby cows “veal” and pigs “pork”. We want all traces of what they were before the slaughter erased before they are served us, because out of sight is out of mind.  This is why we get mad at vegans. Why see them as sanctimonious little shits. That anger we feel at vegans has a certain flavor. The flavor of ourselves. This particular type of anger brews in a divide in our minds, a divide we create when our minds think we’re the kind heroes, while our actions say that actually, we’re pretty shitty villains. It’s easier to be a shitty villain than a kind hero. More convenient. Our systems are designed to facilitate that process, to outsource our cruel behavior and hope that it cannot be traced back to us. And besides, we can pwn the next vegan, make them less so that we don’t seem so small ourselves. We buy a little reprieve from cognitive dissonance and pay with anger and disconnection. 

Everything we do has a price. Those that do our butchering for us pay a great price for their deeds: killing sentient beings desensitizes you. A study shows that working at a slaughterhouse increases your chances to be arrested for rape and other violent crimes. We pay them to be butchers, they pay by severing kindness from their life. There is no such thing as a kind murder. Killing when you don’t have to is not natural, it’s cruelty. Cruelty begets cruelty, just like kindness begets kindness. Each and every one of us has two wolves inside us, one white and one black. The white is the embodiment of trust, collaboration, play, growth, kindness, justice, love, peace. The black embodies hate, anger, revenge, dominance, selfishness, suspicion, war. These two wolves are constantly fighting each other for control of us. All of us believe that the white wolf in us is winning, so it’s safe to feed the black wolf just a little bit. Just this time. If we’re not careful, those bits and times form a steady flow, and before we know it, the black wolf seems almost as big as the white. That’s when we put a divide between the wolves, so that they never meet, so that we don’t have to see them side by side and realize the true size of the black wolf. Inside that divide, dark feelings grow: fear, anger, hate. And when these emotions seep out as actions, they only feed the black wolf, fattening it. Prolonging its rule. People ruled by the black wolf long enough turn into the Joffreys, the Cerceis, the Little Fingers, the Ramsay Boltons. People with a strong enough white wolves are the Hodors, the John Snows, the Briennes. 

Nobody is beyond redemption, if they truly want it. The white wolf can never die. Neither can the black. As long as one exists, the other must too, just like the front requires the back. Your actions feed either, so choose your actions like Indiana Jones chose the holy grail, friend. Choose wisely.

Choose wisely, and if you’re unsure, choose kindly. The kind option is often the same thing as the wise option, or at least a wise option. If angry actions feed the black wolf, then kind actions feed the white. 

You, as a human, belong to the 0.01 percent of life on Earth. You belong to a species whose rise to power – a power that we wield with as much compassion as queen Cercei Lannister, with love for our children but hardly anybody else – our rise to that power has cost Earth dearly. 80% of land animals are gone because of us. 80% of all marine mammals. 50% of plants. We, as humans, treat the remaining 99.9% of life just like the 1% of humans treat the rest of us. We have forgotten where we come from. Our language and culture teach us that we are made, not grown, and so we see ourselves as products and brands rather than organisms. We consider our insides our insides, but we don’t realize that if it’s our inside, then it’s our outside too. Then we go ahead treating our outside like a six-pack-a-day-smoker with a crystal meth addiction treats their inside. However secular we consider ourselves to be in the western world, we still believe in the convenient lies told by Christianity: humans are the crown of creation. We’re special. And that speciality gives us rights. Power over lesser species. Well, if that is true, then who’s to say that the richest 1% of humans aren’t special as well? And what follows is that it gives them rights and power. Our society simply mirrors of who we are as a species. It’s not strange that things seem to be coming to a head both on a planetary as well as a societal level at the same time. We’re a loop within a loop. As the planet is getting ready to deal with us and our unscrupulous destruction, we are getting ready to deal with our systems and their biased corruption. Fix them so that they support sustainability and measure happiness, instead of punishing long-term thinking and measuring quarterly profits. We must learn to collaborate, both as individuals, and as a species. Make sure that humanity becomes symbiotic, instead of parasitic. 

But where do we start? What can you and I possibly do? We’re just two small cells in an organism of 7 billion. We could disappear right now, and most of the organism wouldn’t even notice. It’s like we’re fireflies on very dark night, each good action lights up the darkness for a moment, and when the light goes out, the darkness just seems stronger. What is the point of sacrificing convenience, of the hard work of changing habits, if it ultimately doesn’t help? 

If that is a question you ask yourself, it’s a sign that the black wolf inside you is afraid. You see, that question is a trick question, posed by the black wolf. The doubt, the inaction, which that question sows is all that stands between the black wolf and starvation. The truth is that even if nobody sees your kindness, generosity, or selflessness, even if you just light up a tiny speck on a tiny speck on a green-blue speck in a forgotten corner of the Laniakea supercluster, well, such actions still feed the white wolf inside you, and you are the universe made manifest. You don’t have to save the world in one heroic action. Success is incremental. Just start by making the world better in whichever way you can. Recycle. Buy products from sustainable, value-driven companies. Help feed the homeless. Sponsor a child’s schooling. Smile at a stranger. 

Don’t let the certainty that you cannot save the world by yourself stand in the way of you trying. No one can do everything, but everyone can do something. Don’t kill your ego, expand it to encompass not only you and your loved ones, or your fellow countrymen, but to encompass all of humanity and the spaceship we call Earth. Kindness begets kindness, and one thing I’m sure of: nobody lies on their death bed regretting all the times they were kind. 

Do you have something in mind? If you don’t, I have a suggestion. It’s something that shows kindness both towards the planet and the life on it, that brings us closer to reducing our usage of the planet from a lion’s share to a fair one. It won’t cost you more money, but it may take some time in the beginning: start eliminating animal products from your diet. You don’t have to go full vegan, start with one day a week and then expand it. This will make a difference. You see,  with each step up the foodchain, only 10 per cent of the energy is passed on to the next step, as 90 per cent of energy is lost to heat. Therefore, fewer organisms can be supported as you step up the pyramid, leaving only a few predatory species at the apex. There is a reason why we only see a few carnivores in the wild; nature only has so much energy to go around. 

Don’t judge yourself for being bad when you stumble, to err is human, and it’s how we handle our mistakes that makes us divine. 

Remember that you attract more flies with honey than with vinegar. Inspire others through action and positive encouragement, with kindness and love. The other path is alluring, and we all stumble down it at one time or another, but going down that path risks turning you into the very thing you set out to defeat.

We are on the verge of a moment that will define humanity. Are we what Agent Smith believes we are, or are we something better, something more? I believe we’re the latter, a belief that is as strong today as it was when I first heard Agent Smith back in 1999. Collectively, we have the capability of making both our dreams and nightmares come true. I hope you dream the most beautiful dreams, just like I do. Sleep well, friend, until you wake up.