Grigory Ryzhakov – Russian Writer

Back to Animals: Faith, Soul and Consumerism

Ever hungry Hyde Park squirrel as a metaphor of the consumerist culture

Think about what really makes us different from animals? Is it our ability to empathize and be altruistic sometimes? But then altruism is regularly found in animals, especially social species, and is assumed to serve as an adaptation mechanism to preserve the community or ecosystem. Competing is not always the best survival strategy, while cooperation and symbiosis are very common in nature.

What if human distinction is the ability to communicate using language, but then it’s just a way of communication. Birds and dolphins and many other organisms talk to each other too, plants communicate using volatile compounds.

Yet our language is not just a communication system, it enables us to use symbols, or words, to call things in countless ways. This is called a second signal system. But it also allows us to communicate things that don’t necessarily exist in the world. It enabled humans to come up with maths and philosophy and then later on with science. It allows us to express abstract thoughts.

Sometimes we are defined by the ability to follow our dreams and those dreams can be pretty abstract, very far from anything that exists in nature.
Our language brought us a curse which is absent in other animals. We became aware of the world around us and its workings, we became aware of ourselves and we started thinking the big question – why are we here? What is the meaning of life?

Nature came up with a protective mechanism to soothe our anguish resulting from out futile attempts to answer such questions – it’s faith.

Religious faith dominated human societies for thousands of years, but with advent of science and technological progress we became increasingly faithless. Many of us lost the spiritual stamina, so are we back to square one?

Geese are not alien to consumption, especially if bread is on offer

I believe at this point nature strikes back. Materialism prevails and we created such complex culture of consumption that people don’t have time or need to think about spirituality and God and other things that are practically beyond our grasp. This kind of worries are left to a minority: philosophers, artists and scientists. It’s their job to deal with these questions, to suffer from the existential burden. The majority dumped spirituality for entertainment. I think it’s a protective mechanism that our society developed. Not everyone can live their lives tackling those big eternal questions. There is an opinion that people need to experience life and then when becoming old they can reflect on it and think about the eternity and ‘the meaning’.

So, consumerism, entertainment culture substituted faith and spirituality, at least in the rich Western civilization; in poor or totalitarian states, where church institutions are still proactive and very much in power, faith still holds strong.

A bookshop, once a place for intellectual and spiritual food…

Finally, what is consumerism/ entertainment culture? It’s actually down to our instinctive behaviour. This culture enables us to satisfy our physiological needs (food and sex), we can experience basic emotions common in animals (fear, wonder, etc.) maybe even some not so common to animals  like laughter (caused by perception of humour) – this we also do to be happy, not in order to understand things or to explore our nature.

So, the pop culture serves our basic needs and instincts, while the art that acts on the cerebral level is becoming more niche and even academic.  As a result, in my opinion,  we are closer to the animal state like never before.

It’s true that we do some things no animals would ever do, they can’t: we destruct our planet, because we have tools. This is actually not our unique quality. A bunch of bacteria would propagate in a flask with a culture medium until all the nutrients are gone and the mass extinction starts. Our destructive behavior is very much natural. Or is it?

What do we do now? I suggest at least to accept that in our society different ways of life philosophies can co-exist peacefully.

Go to zoo, look at all those cute creatures – eating, playing, sleeping, out for a walk.

Being an animal isn’t such a bad thing after all.

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