I read a book this weekend that annoyed me all weekend (Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver). I would have stopped reading, but I have the common neurosis of not being able to stop a book half-way through.
The book was highly didactic, which is annoying in a fiction book, especially when the book is peppered with informative speeches to educate the ignorant, as this book is. I don't like didactic fiction for the same reason I don't like didactic celebrities. They can use things other logic and facts to persuade. That sounds so uptight of me. But case in point: To make one particular viewpoint lose credibility, make it the viewpoint of the ignorant, judgmental crotechy Christians. To make another viewpoint seem attractive, have it flow from the mouth of the compassionate, wise old environmentalist woman.
One of the main themes of the book, which was preaching orangic farming, evolution, universalism, among other things, was that humans are really just animals, like any other animal. We feed, we copulate, etc, etc. Animals are praised for their ability to simply follow their instincts/nature. Humans should learn to be more like the animals they are.
Besides the fact that you can't teach yourself nature, it's just what one does naturally, this theory seems to go against the other theories the book is oh-so-subtly preaching: That we should care for the plight of endangered salamanders and not stifle or alter the course of Nature. Looking at human nature, judged by history, it seems to me that human nature is pretty simple: We feed, we copulate, and we seek dominion. The history of the world is the history of people surviving and vying for power over a land or over a people. Power is kind of our thing. Luckily, we are highly evolved to fulfill this task: we have great big brains and opposable thumbs.
So, what would humans look like who were simply following their most basic animal instincts? A lot like the pesticide-spraying farmers and coyote-shooting ranchers that the book so sneers at: They have lots of kids (i.e. sex), they produce food (i.e. they can eat), and they do what it takes to have dominion over the land in order to provide for and ensure the propagation of their species (i.e. spray pesticides, shoot coyotes). I'm not taking a stand on pesticides or hunting, but what I am saying is that the farmers and ranchers who use them don't need to just get more in touch with their beastiality and nature. They are being very good beasts, in fact.
Some scientists think that the world would be a much better place without humans, because we're such destructive little buggers (self-loathing is not, by the way, an animal instinct). Well, we are destructive little buggers. But this is what we see other animals do too. When you have an overpopulation of rats, the rats live it up. They don't look around at each other and hem and haw and apologize for their success in propogation. They keep it on up! That's what animals do: they do what it takes to survive without fretting about the other species around them.
The other things that Kingsolver preaches, such as caring about minute birdies and bugs, just don't fit to me with the elevation of following our animal instincts. There are other things that would lead me to her same beliefs, but these would be religion, compassion, and logic. These are all very basic to our human nature, but not our animal nature. These are the things that make us distinct from animals.
Why do scientists continually have to remind us that we're just animals and that we ought to behave as such? Do we remind fox how to be proper fox? Do we remind magpies how to be proper magpies? This very fact that we do not seem to be very good at just being animals points me to believe that perhaps there is something more to us than just animal.
Perhaps I'm making too much of this small point. But I've said my share, and I feel better. Now please feel free to pick my arguments apart.