The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

April 24, 2008

Some things I learned from my cats…

Just a few thoughts tonight before signing off for the week. I was watching Soots and Arya (or Suit Scenario, as Axelle calls them) examine the common objects of their lives. They chew on cords. They bat at invisible specks. They jump onto the kitchen counter and invariably knock things off. They drag balls of yarn through the house, creating intricate and artistic messes that I have to clean up. They are way too curious about curly CFL lightbulbs for my comfort, and, as I mentioned yesterday, they are ruining the window blinds in their fascination with all things that move, swing, or make noise.

They are terribly curious and examine every object in their world with fierce intensity. And yet as much as they study and even learn the behaviors of certain objects, for the most part, they will never, ever understand why those objects are here in their world and what they are for. They bumble and break things and don’t understand what they have done.

And we, as their humans, get exasperated but love them unconditionally. We do understand the purpose of the lamp or the ball of yarn or the pull cord or the cloth pantiliner (oh yeah, Arya loves dragging my freshly laundered cloth pantiliners out of the basket and having her way with them, and Michael loves to let her do it cuz he thinks it’s funny and cuz he’s the good cop and can’t bear to say no.) We know that the cats will never understand, and we love them anyway.

Now think about humans. Aren’t we kinda like cats, toying with the universe, poking and prodding and testing and trying to understand, and oftentimes breaking things and creating all kinds of environmental messes in the process? I’m not saying we shouldn’t study and try to learn as much as we can. But shouldn’t we also admit that the universe is way too complex for any of us to ever understand fully? And shouldn’t we have a little humility and awe for the intricacy of the world and quit thinking we can just take it apart and put it back together?

And now I’m going out on a limb here because I have said before that I’m not religious and don’t have any specific belief in any god or “higher power.” But what if there is some higher consciousness aware of all of this, watching us the way we watch the cats, and laughing and loving us just the same? What if we’re all doing exactly what we’re supposed to be doing right now? Me blogging about plastic and recycling and eating chocolate and staying up all night. Others driving SUVs or shopping at the farmer’s market or logging old growth forests or studying stem cells or mining coltan or tutoring children? What if we’re all just doing the very best we can, bumbling along, arrogant or humble or a combination of both? And what if that’s okay?

Now don’t freak out and think I’m letting anyone off the hook. On a personal level, I’m driven to care for the earth in a particular way and to be part of a movement urging others to learn to care as well. All I’m saying is that there are vast complexities at work in the universe about which none of us has a clue. Why is the universe here in the first place? Not how did it get here, Big Bang and all that, but why? I don’t think it’s a question humans will ever be able to answer. Just like cats, we can figure out how some things work. We have learned about processes like evolution which explain how everything developed. But I don’t think our brains can ever comprehend why the material world should exist at all. So it’s nice to feel that perhaps we are part of something big and mysterious that loves and encompasses all of our perfect imperfections.

And now I’m going to take my perfectly imperfect self to bed.

P.S. I killed all the ads for new cars on Fake Plastic Fish, even though they paid pretty well. Did you notice? They were depressing me and not in keeping with the spirit of this site. Toyota doesn’t need me advertising the Prius, hybrid or not. I wish I could get Walking and its sister Biking to pay me to advertise. Oh well. I’ll settle for Zip Car.

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13 years ago

This is a great post. I love your humility, and we’d be better off if we had a lot more of it. Especially those of us who are Christians, or scientists, or both!

13 years ago

Beth, I hate to say this in case your advertisers are reading, but I didn’t notice the presence or lack of car ads.

I worked in print advertising for six years and I have to say I think most people are pretty good at filtering out the ads – your reviews and research posts are *way* more likely to influence my buying habits than the ads that support the blog.

I may be atypical – I’ve always been more a user of pull advertising (when I’m ready to buy something I’ll go looking for it) than of push advertising (Wow! I didn’t even know that existed ! Now I need one!) EXCEPT the kind of word-of-mouth/peer review/peer pressure push that is really, really hard for advertisers to cause.

13 years ago

Thanks for taking on the water filter makers of our world. I use Pur filters since they came out and filtered more throughly than the Britta did back in the 1990’s but I always feel guilty putting any chunk of plastic in the trash. I was amazed to learn that they recycle them in Europe! What are those crazy filter makers waiting for a riot? I might add a Britta for our household, just so I can save up some of those filters to send to you for your visual PR event. Thank you and all those people helping put the spot light on waste and plastics that are ruining our world.

13 years ago

Hi, while I too am a fan of a healthy lifestyle, I am continuously amazed at the growing number of folks subscribing to the green movement. While admirable in the intent, the sheer arrogance to think we humans can cause irrepairable damage to such a resilient planet is using our very big brains more egotistically than I thought possible. Sadly, we are a nation (fast becoming world) of sheep, and the green movement is the new “wonder bread” being advertised to us, and we’re eating it up, and not even cutting off the crusts. Ultimately, the war to save the environment is the war that can be eternally waged, where the protesters (obstructors of green profit) are angrily dismissed as lunatics. Without exception, the measures taken to lighten our carbon footprint deplete more resources than those we are striving to save, are far more costly, and are hardly efficient at all. It’s the new “dig me” campaign, but unlike Kabala, or new age spiritualism, this one isn’t going to go away because it is too profitable. Every day, a new “fact” is editorialized upon regarding our fast eroding, melting, hemoraging earth, while more and more scientific fingers simply point to history’s cyclical patterns showing what folly this all is. Heresy! will be the cries toward those who continue to say what I say to you while we head toward the food shortages created by corn only crops to produce the alternate form of fuel, ultimately useless in it’s touted abilities.


13 years ago

Hi Beth, I’ve been reading your blog for a couple of months, and have recommended it on to several people. I live in Hawaii and have spent this legislative session working on a couple of plastic-related environmental issues (I found your blog while doing some online research).

I was wondering if you happen to have come across info re: a process by which to reclaim oil from plastic. I’m really wary and skeptical, but I talked to a rep from this Japanese company (tsphereenergy dot com — the site is currently under construction) and they claim they can complete the process with no waste because impurities are reduced to carbon compounds that can be used in industrial manufacturing. I’m just not sure I buy it. Well, I don’t buy it (the no waste bit). I just don’t have any evidence to support whether or not I should buy it. Do you know anything?

Anyway, I just love your site, and everything that you do. I’ve made a number of changes myself inspired by things I’ve read about here– so, keep up the good work. You really are changing the world, you know. And you give the rest of us hope.


13 years ago

Soots and Arya > Suit Scenario > Suit Sin Area > Sued Sand Area > Suet Send Dairy Ah! Anguish Languish, the English language! Fake plastic fish and chips.

13 years ago

Yes, I agree that we don’t know everything by a long shot, but even if we had the capacity to know all, it wouldn’t help. The example: all that we can know currently that people simply don’t think about, not because they are kept in the dark but because (unlike the cats) they don’t use the smarts they have. I know people who will come right out and say, “Oh, I don’t want to hear about that”, the ostrich with head in the sand. Is there any other animal than man that has a capability it willfully does not use?!

That can’t be afforded in the “natural” world where every species must use everything it has available to survive. We, in contrast, have everything provided to us so that all we really need to know is how to get money.

I was in a Whole Foods Market yesterday, the largest one I’ve ever seen. You know how they arrange things down to the last detail to be appealing. Well, there wasn’t a thing there that didn’t look inviting and worth a try. I settled for a cookie and an apple but I’m sure you know the feeling of the place. I also realized there was hardly a thing there that I could come up with on my own. So there I was, Mr. Helpless in Everything Land. And isn’t that our situation in a nutshell?

As for religion, I’m impatient with those who say, “God will provide” because it isn’t God, but the earth that provides and it WON’T provide if we don’t change our ways. We aren’t the benevolent shepherd but more the guy who beat the drum for the oarsmen in the sea-battle sequence in Ben-Hur, raising the pace even as the shackled slaves were dropping from exhaustion.

Misery with poverty, by our standards, was a sustainable way to live for all but the rulers of mankind for thousands of years. Misery can be endured if you know nothing else. I’m sure people used the expression “that’s life!” throughout history. But try taking someone who knows luxury (as all of us do) and ask them to cut back in this way and that with the expectation that things are not going to get more plentiful in the future. Children faced with a similar situation will throw a tantrum. The idea of sacrifice is just not in our working vocabulary as consumers who have spent the future already through credit. To take on a huge credit burden is to say, “I want not only the present but the future as well and I want it now.”

Change will come, no doubt, but I really think it will be past the point where it is an option and I do fear the social upheaval to come.

Gas is now well over $3.50 a gallon. You may know my on-the-road test from my website. Well, I was on the interstate the other day and drove the speed limit as usual. There was absolutely no indication of high gas prices in driving behaviour: cars and light trucks were still lined up speeding in the fast lane and I did not pass. Is everyone going to the emergency room? No. Here is a case where it would be easy to scale back but nobody is doing it, rather they are pushing each other to go faster.

What does this say of voluntary restraint or of people consciously thinking about what they are doing?
It’s as if people are saying, “I choose to be blind and nobody can make me see!”

Beth Terry
13 years ago

There are magazines called Walking and Biking? That’s funny. I really did mean it like Jessica said. Just the verbs. Not any actual business.

Clif — I knew you would respond to this post. I agree with everything you said. But want to push it further. You wrote:

“THAT is the key. We do know what we are doing. We are the ONLY species that has a chance (at the moment) of modifying its only behavior on the basis of information that comes to us in a way unavailable to all other life – through the action of science.”

My point is, we know what we’re doing TO A POINT. We are like gods to other creatures in that we can control them and their world. BUT there is a lot we don’t know and probably cannot know. And so, just as we are exponentially more intelligent than cats, in being able to think about the future and see the results of our actions, maybe (and I’m not saying I believe this, it’s just nice to speculate on) there is some exponentially higher intelligence that understands things we never can or will.

It’s not a theory because it can’t be tested. There’s nothing scientific about it. It’s just fun to think about late at night when you’re brain is fried and you feel so, so small. And no, I don’t smoke grass, if that’s what you’re wondering.


13 years ago

Good post! Sometimes I think of how human behavior can be graphed on a curve; some people will go to extremes, most people will behave around the norm, some will go to the opposite extreme. You can’t predict which folks will do what but you can predict the range of behavior and how many will fall into what kind of behavior. This is to be expected of us as with any animal, because that is what we are.

What would happen if dolphins ruled the world? It’s reasonable to think that they would make it a dolphin-centered world as we have made it human centered. They would alter the environment to suit their wants and desires as we have. Of course they don’t have the arms and legs we do so they are “stuck” in the oceans, but only for now. Take away mankind and let evolution have its way and give a few million years there would be another species topping the others as we have.

Does it matter what we do? Beyond ourselves, no. The universe goes on with plenty of creation and destruction and we are only a current instrument in that process. We can make the earth a barren planet devoid of life and it makes no difference at all. Species quite energetically kill other species. Would cats kill all birds if they could? Would they consider what they were doing in the process?

THAT is the key. We do know what we are doing. We are the ONLY species that has a chance (at the moment) of modifying its only behavior on the basis of information that comes to us in a way unavailable to all other life – through the action of science.

We are the god we have always imagined there to be; a Big Person. For all other life on earth we are god in every sense of the word, having total control over the fate of all species, having unquestioned authority to do as we wish with them, capable of monitoring them at any and all times of our choosing.

The root of our problem is that we exempt ourselves from all other life. We think we are different and exceptional in the sense of being able to do exactly what we want while in fact being an integral part of the whole but one that has run wild with the power that we have found ourselves with by the combination of physical characteristics that give us a “leg up” over other animals and plants.

Just like them, given the opportunity, we have grabbed for everything in front of us, just as a plant will overgrow the world until stopped by too little water, heat or sunshine. Competition is what keeps life at bay and we have leapt over all potential competition except ourselves.

The outlook is not good based on what we know of life. If we follow the path that all other life would follow if freed of competition we will devour the world and die back in huge numbers. The devouring, we have already largely accomplished.

Millions of years of the formation and accumulation of liquid carbon that spurts spontaneously from the ground when tapped has now been consumed to a large fraction simply to push heavy metal boxes around with us inside for over a little over 100 years.

Unlike the cats, we do know better but that may not be enough to save us. This isn’t good or bad, other species have come and gone before us, but it is remarkable that we are so closely following in their footsteps in spite of being the “rational” animal.

As I think I have mentioned, there is a theory that intelligent life cannot be found beyond earth in the larger universe because intelligence has a very brief reign due to the tremendous empowerment it gives without the accompanying restraint that is needed for it to survive. Wherever in the universe it has happened, it has been brief due to self-extinction. Based on what I see around me, this is a very persuasive theory.

But, we have to live with ourselves as individuals. I see litter every day and I don’t see anyone picking it up. Still, I pick it up because I want to be at peace with myself. I want to be on the tail of the normal distribution that indicates those who tried to put the finger in the dike.

13 years ago

Why is it all here? Someone or
Something loves to be creative, just like we do.

Blue Collar Crunch
13 years ago

Jessica, I’m pretty sure she means the magazines Walking and Biking. But the idea of just the concepts having ads is pretty hilarious.

Beth, we will probably never know everything about the universe (actually, that would be a pretty boring day if it ever happened), but the striving to learn is so much fun! Sometimes I wish I hadn’t given up on the hard sciences in college when things got difficult; I was just so unused to school being hard that I thought I must not be cut out for it after all.

Yeah, yeah, I’m a science geek.

Jessica at Bwlchyrhyd
13 years ago

> I wish I could get Walking and its
> sister Biking to pay me to
> advertise.

If they could charge us for the privilege of walking and biking, I’m sure there would be people out there advertising it!

On a serious note though, you should be able to get ads from bike manufacturers I would have thought…