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The Activation

weilla yuan's picture

The Activation

      In Elizabeth Kolbert’s book The Sixth Extinction, she describes that facing the severe environmental crisis and the possible Sixth Extinction, humans are saying “As long as we keep exploring, humanity is going to survive.(Kolbert 268)”, “people have to have hope. It’s what keeps us going.(Kolbert 263)”. The world has already gone into the Anthropocene without people even notice it. Now humans are trying their best to do whatever they can to let the “humanities to go on”. However, the question here is: How did these happen? When did we step into the era of Anthropocene?

If using the concepts of Anthropocene that human activities had a global impact on the ecosystem, then Cretaceous-Tertiary mass extinction (the dinosaurs extinction) occurred because Dinosaurs were overly- strong than the other species on the Earth and formed a hegemony on the Earth(BBC). However, how does humans, the species that are neither big in size nor has hard skin to protect it self, become the rulers of the world? The truth might be: Humans are aggressively active, whereas other species are naturally passive.

Just like Kolbert wrote in her book: “Information is stored and transmitted, with modifications, down the generations. Communication holds societies together and allows humans to escape evolution… [O]r better still, you can picture yourself, holding a book on your lap.(Kolbert 266)” Knowledge is important, but is this knowledge, activates humans to ruin the world. From the very beginning of the human society, ever since the first human thought of the idea of building a hunting tool based on other species, humans had escaped from the normal process of evolution, but depended on their brain to build tools in order to protect themselves. From that point, humans had formed a counter-hegemony (Freire 11) against the food chain, and from time to time, this counter-hegemony becomes absolute hegemony.

The most famously studied case of the melanism of peppered moths in the post-industrialism era in Britain is a great example. The peppered moth (Biston Betularia) is a species using camouflage to escape from the birds. There are two typical forms of this kind of moth: Typicall (white speckled pattern), and carbonaria (melanic). Before the industrialism darkened the trees and killed the lichens on the trees, the moths are mostly Typicall, the melanic ones are very rare because they are easily recognized by the predators. However, after industrialism ruined the trees, in 50 years, 98% of the peppered moths had become melanic. J.W.Tutt hypothesized in 1896 that this dramatic change of peppered moths was due to the natural selection pressure (Charles Darwin). This is evolution, passive evolution for survival.

The same thing happens in the natural world right now. Every year during the gnu migration, thousands of gnus are eaten by crocodiles. Gnus can totally kill a crocodile if they get together and use their hoofs to kick its head. They did not. Instead, the gnus let their children eaten by crocodiles even they have the chance to fight off (角马). Why did this happen? Because gnus cannot think of this idea, they do not have the knowledge of fighting back, so they stay in the food chain and waiting for the tragedy to come. The capacity of counter-hegemony (Freire 11) might exists in all the species in the world, but only the ones with knowledge can achieve it. And the ones with knowledge, will become active and be on the very top of the world.

Knowledge caused all of these: why we entered Anthropocene, why the world is extremely polluted, why the species are extincting. Knowledge has stimulated the counter-hegemony inside our body and lead us to become active and escape from the passive evolution. Stead of evolving and mutating to survive, we kill others, and we are keeping doing this to try to cover the bodies we killed.



Works Cited:

BBC, Cretaceous-Tertiary Mass Extinction. BBC, Web. 21, Nov. 2014.

Charles Darwin & Evolution 1809~2009. Christ College, Cambridge. 2009. Web. 21 Nov. 2014.

Freire, Paulo. “The Importance of the Act of Reading”. Trans. Loretta Slover. Brazilian Congress of Reading, Campinas, Brazil. November 1981. Rpt. Journal of Education 165, 1 (Winter 1983): 5-11.

“角马大迁徙[The Migration of Gnus].” Animal World. CCTV. 25 Jun. 2007. Television.

Kolbert, Elizabeth. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. New York: Henry Holt, 2014.



Anne Dalke's picture

Weilla—we talked last week about your doing some additional research in order to answer some of the questions that Kolbert’s book and talk raised for you, and your search did turn up two very interesting stories: the evolution of the peppered moths, and the non-evolution of the gnus. And of course the contrast of those two stories suggests the “next” question: why did one species evolve in response to environmental pressure, while another one failed to?

I also see , with admiration, that you re using two key words--hegemony and counter-hegemony— from our recent discussion of Friere, and doing so in very surprising ways, by applying social concepts to the natural world. Let’s talk about whether dinosaurs and the food chain can both be called “hegemonic,” and also whether—given that claims—this means that “counter hegemony” is only possible for humans, who can imagine alternatives in ways that other animals and plants cannot.

The real irony your paper raises—which I’d like to talk about more—is that while claiming that “knowledge activates humans to ruin the world,” you are here seeking further knowledge. How reconcile the sentence you indicate as your thesis, with what your essay is doing: gathering more knowledge and sharing it with others?

P.S.: correct your use of quotation marks: they belong before the parenthetical citations, not after it.