The Age of the Cockroach

Sunday, June 17, 2007

During a brief trip through the paper this morning, this article in the Houston Chronicle caught my eye because it followed up a story that amused me some time ago: A natural museum here had offered to pay kids a quarter per cockroach in order to stock an insect exhibit.

So I read it, and found that it was mainly a Q&A about cockroaches with the museum's curator of entomology. As such, it was okay for what it was, but it didn't really tell me anything I didn't already know.

Nevertheless, one of the answers caused me to come up with what I think is a fitting name for this era of global warming hysteria and fanatical environmentalism:

[Cockroaches] eat decaying vegetation, decaying stuff, mostly. And if we didn't have them -- and the termites and dung beetles and decomposers -- the world would be piled high in trash. They're very important recyclers. [bold added]
This is undeniably true, but I would have called them "scavengers" rather than "recyclers". This led me, in turn, to recall some of the other contexts in which I have seen that r-word pop up since environmentalism became so fashionable. For example, men used to speak of "reclaiming" used rubber when discussing what we would now call "recycling". And note that even long before it became all the rage in Hollywood, this type of activity did occur frequently -- but only when it made actual, economic sense to do so.

So yes, the cockroach fills a major ecological niche, but no, I would not insult one by accusing it of (pointlessly) "recycling" things. In that respect, its behavior makes far more sense than that of the average curbside recycler since its life actually benefits from its activity. By contrast, most people who hoard newsprint like it is gold, and then set it out by the sidewalk every week are wasting one irreplaceable resource (time from their own lives) to save a renewable one (paper) that is so cheap it is uneconomical to reclaim it.

But this sort of mindless behavior, which we are urged to do quite often without even the pretext of benefiting mankind, or ourselves individually, has become the latest ideal of the collectivist left, the latest avatar of the assault on freedom it must dupe us into performing for it.

Czech President Vaclav Klaus puts this best (HT: HBL and Jim May):
As someone who lived under communism for most of his life, I feel obliged to say that I see the biggest threat to freedom, democracy, the market economy and prosperity now in ambitious environmentalism, not in communism. This ideology wants to replace the free and spontaneous evolution of mankind by a sort of central (now global) planning.
I could not find a good example of this (at least that I have any familiarity with), but I recall back in the heyday of Communism that those of us who valued freedom compared the social system of communism disparagingly to an anthill. (And some proponents went so far, I think, as to make such comparisons in all seriousness, as if an anthill were a society to which we could and should aspire.)

But we are no longer told even to set our sights this "high"! No longer is the betterment of man the professed goal of those from the left, who would tell us to emulate insects. Not that I condone any form of self-sacrifice, but at least when we were being compared unfavorably to ants, it was because we were supposedly not helping our fellow man enough.

Now, we're basically being exhorted to imitate the scavenging behavior of cockroaches -- but curiously, not to emulate them by doing so in ways that will actually promote our own lives. We are now, not even to devote our lives to building a great society, but to waste our lives recycling garbage for the sake of filling some supposed ecological niche rather than living our own lives. We are now simply to rejoin nature in the form of renouncing any personal goals or aspirations we might have -- as if it is "natural" for us to renounce reason, the tool of survival peculiar to our species!

Unless we begin to ask those on the left why we should sacrifice our freedom to their cause, we will soon wake up like Gregor Samsa to discover that we have, for all practical purposes, become cockroaches!

I, for one, wish to avert the Age of the Cockroach to which the left now aspires. I hope you do, too!

-- CAV


Jim May said...

Occasionally the Left shows that, if anything, Ayn Rand didn't exaggerate enough.

The first such instance I recall was when she wrote something about the New Left having nothing left to say but that "capitalism spoils the countryside", it is through as a movement. I thought to myself that the Left didn't even have that left, after the fall of Communism helped reveal the utter devastation of both man *and* his environment that we see to this day in the former East Bloc.

This time around, your comment about wasting our life's *time* on pointless endeavours, made me think of her essay "The Monument Builders", referring to the huge yet pointless expenditures of time and effort put into the ancient equivalents of modern-day white elephants... except that even those occasionally resulted in impressive works of engineering that have lasted a long time. Those mounds of newspaper won't last the week.

Gus Van Horn said...

I think they are through as an intellectual movement. What we're seeing in environmentalism is the left morphing into a religion. I doubt we'll actually see a new religion since the syncretists from hell, the Christians, will gradually absorb the ones who don't simply convert to Islam.

The adult leftists might half-heartedly flirt with Wicca and the like. Their kids will become Moslems and Green Christians.