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HOUDINI Magazine

Erik Houdini

2024 Thoughts from Erik Houdini

On Non-Human Centric Ethics, Indigenious Thinking and our New Renissance

Editor's Note: Something a bit different, this is raw, unfiltered, a direct conversion of free-flowing speech to text. This is less of an article, and more of a conversation. No edits have been made in post.

You know, I think as we sort of come into this period of radical rethinking and restructuring of our societal expectations, and as climate change forces humanity to reckon with our place in the universe and our place on the planet, I think something we seriously need to do, and this is going to sound kind of cringe coming from someone who's not even a vegan. I'm not a vegan. I'm not going to tell you you need to stop eating meat. But maybe it would be a good idea if humans, humanity, took a look at our ethical systems and how it places humans at the top of this hierarchy of creatures on the Earth, as if the needs of, say, elk don't matter because they're not humans.

And now there's going to be a conservationist, there's going to be environmentalists, there's going to be these ists, right? But fundamentally the reason they exist is because, well, we have a system that doesn't care about nature and places humanity above nature, so of course there's an effort to conserve nature, but when you realize that you are nature, you're essentially just saying we need to conserve ourselves. So a conservationist is almost like someone who's trying to save humanity from species suicide, because if you destroy nature, humanity is not above nature, you're simply destroying yourself.

So I think if we're going to be radically rethinking everything, everything is on the table, then I think that would be a good place to start. It's kind of ironic, when I started the blog six months ago, the first article I wrote was just a rant about SeaWorld. I'd gotten some coupon in the mail about SeaWorld, and I was like, yeah, SeaWorld is fucking whack. And I think that's still true, but we should take it a little bit deeper than that. You know, why is SeaWorld whack? Well, it's because we believe that we're better than the orcas. We believe that we deserve to make them dance for us for entertainment, right? Humanity still has human slaves, so maybe I'm asking a bit much, but we are essentially enslaving all the other creatures on the planet, all of them, to serve our will and our interests.

I hear a lot of talk about walkable cities, and this is a little bit unrelated, but I hear a lot of talk about walkable cities, and I'm a big fan of walkable cities, third spaces, third places, but here's the thing. If we're going to have to radically rethink our city development and how we're living in our living situations, maybe it would be beneficial for us to take a look at some of the alternative systems that people, especially indigenous people, had in the pre-contact and pre-genocide eras, right? We take that and we go, hey, we've got this modern technology, maybe these things can be combined and they can be used to create a living situation that is not only beneficial for humans, but it's also beneficial for the other species that reside within those same areas.

Now, the thing is, most cities have existed for so long that the native population of the creatures is basically gone, right? But that doesn't mean that we can't, one, try to reintroduce them, and two, have a bit more of a respect for the creatures within our ecosystems that we interact with on a daily basis. So it's like New York City, right? Pigeons, right? Birds. You see the anti-bird spikes because people don't want bird shit on their cars. You know, they're expensive cars. Such a good example. They don't want bird shit on their cars because they paid a lot of money for it. So they believe they have a right, because they don't see the birds as anything other than, like, a theory or a creature. They have the right to put spikes up and say, you can't perch here. You're not allowed to perch here anymore because I don't want you to shit on my car. I understand that you, as a creature, as a pigeon, don't understand what profit motive is. You don't have a concept of money, but I need you to understand that you can't perch here anymore because I, the superior human, now own this perching spot and I don't want shit on my car that I paid a bunch of money for. You see what I'm saying? It's so conducive to this human-centric narrative of, like, we're the superior creatures.

But are we really the superior creatures? Like, why do we have to think that? Like, why do we think we're the superior creatures? Because as far as I'm concerned, no other creature destroys where they live quite like humans do. Like, the beavers build dams, but at least that has a purpose ecologically. You see what I'm saying? No other creature is raising entire forests, is altering the atmosphere. The point is, why do we believe that we are better than the other creatures who clearly have much more respect for their natural habitat than we do? It's such a European arrogance that we desperately need to get rid of. Like I said, I'm not a vegan. I still eat meat. I still participate in this system. I will still get Whataburger sometimes, right? But I'm starting to really think about these things more. On a personal level, I'm starting to think about these things more and I think that they are very important as we start really radically rethinking our belief systems.

If we look at history, if we look at the way the European mind thought of animals in the early 1800s, they essentially believed that they were automatons. Early 1700s era, right? That they were incapable of feeling, of thought, they just acted on a robotic instinct alone. Well, okay, that would probably lead to a level of hierarchy that would reinforce the humans are superior because we have intelligence and we think, yeah, well, we know now in the 21st century that that's a bunch of bullshit. We know that that's a bunch of bullshit. SETI dropped fucking like four days ago, a study where they are starting to talk to and communicate and understand whale language, like with AI and stuff. So you're telling me that we're just supposed to, so we could talk to whales, right? Imagine that for a moment. They figure out how somehow to talk to whales and we can get their opinion on things. You think they'd be liking what the fuck we're doing? Like, hey bro, you're heating up the oceans and we're all going to go extinct and you're going to go extinct too, but you think that you're better than everybody else so you'll make it out alive. We talk about the hubris of the capitalist, we talk about the hubris of the elite class, but a lot of that hubris is reflected on just humanity in general and how we treat other creatures, right? We know that slavery of other human beings is wrong, right? Will humanity ever reach a point where we know that slavery of other creatures in general, even if they don't have the same intelligent capacities we do, is wrong? And that is a question that I think, if you look at sci-fi, it's always an alien civilization. That would be something I would probably want them to figure out before I made contact. If we were on the zoo hypothesis, if I was an alien civilization, I'd probably be like, yeah, they enslave the majority, they enslave all the other species on their planet so they can have fucking highways. I don't think there's people I want to make contact with, right? Because we don't even think about this shit. Houston revealed a land bridge that lets deer cross a highway, and it's really beautiful, it's a cool looking architectural piece, but then you think about, that's just one land bridge, one tiny little space for them to cross. Do you think they're just going to figure out that the highway is there? The entire highway system is essentially a wall for animals. We know that, because we've just built a passage for them, but that's enough. So I just think it's an interesting thing, we need to rethink our human-centered ethics in this new renaissance. That's what I'm calling it, the new renaissance.

Well, I think it's very important for us to avoid the doomerism. We must avoid the concept that humans are innately bad because of the things that we've done to the environment. And this is a very difficult thing to do because we've done so much horrible things to the environment that it almost becomes impossible to separate the idea that the things that we've done to the environment are things that were done because of the systems that we lived under, yes, and that oftentimes the people who, the masses, didn't really have any control over. If I was a whale, though, and this is something I think about, if I was a whale, and we managed to get contact with whales, right, we could talk to them just like I could talk to you, and what would that whale have to say about humanity? Would that whale just innately think that we are evil creatures because of what we've done to the same planet that they live on, the same planet that they need to survive, because we've whaled them, right? We wiped them out 97% of the whale population for oil, whale oil. I think that was a genocide, right? We don't think of it as a genocide because we don't think of the whales as people. I mean, people can be genocided, but if you really think about it, that was a genocide of another intelligent creature. And so what would the whale think? Would the whale think, are we innately evil? I would honestly have a hard time arguing with the whale that we're not. We're not innately evil. But at the same time, if I, one person, could hold this thought and believe this, even though I am one of a billion and I'm in a system that I have very little control over to change, it tells me that humans cannot be innately evil. It just tells me that we have the capacity to live in a more harmonious system. And if we have this capacity, I think that should give anyone great hope, right?

I see this a lot on the Internet. Humanity is a virus. Humanity is a problem. Humanity is the reason everything is bad. Humanity is just another animal. We're just another part of nature, right? Mother Earth created us just as much as Mother Earth created the whales, the elk, the fuck, the cougars, right? We are no more different than those creatures on a fundamental level. We all come from the same thing, right? Did Mother Earth make the cougars evil? Right? No. So how could it have made us evil? I honestly almost feel like this concept of good, of humanity as being innately good or innately evil, it's a dumb framework. Because humans are so complex, we're such complex creatures, that neither of those two binaries could possibly encapsulate the overarching experience of being a human, of living on this planet, and having this existence, and sharing this bounty, this bountiful planet with these other creatures. None of those things, no framework of good or evil or sin or sinner could possibly give due to what humans experience, right?

And so I think if we're going to go down this route of how do we rethink our human-centric ethics in terms of this new renaissance, in terms of what we want to see our planet become, and how we respond, I almost think it's irresponsible to entertain the concept of all humans are a virus, all humans are evil, innately. Because we could be caretakers just as much as we could be destroyers. We have the capacity with the technology that we have right now to bring back the woolly mammoth. If the funding and the R&D was there, we could bring back the woolly mammoth, right? We could reintroduce this extinct creature using human technology into the wild where it once thrived. That, my friends, is an example of the caretaker, of humans positioning themselves as we fucked up badly, but we owe it to not only ourselves, because we are part of this greater system, we are part of nature, but to all the other species on this planet, to act as that caretaker, to act as that unique part. It's almost as if we were given self-awareness so that we could be self-aware enough to take care of what's around us so that this place can continue to be bountiful and continue to be beautiful and continue to have this innate beauty to it for as long as possible, until the sun burns out.

Kind of another thing to note, but the concept of AI, right, let's look at it like this. Okay, so if we break this human-centric paradigm, right, and we would probably be breaking it around the same time we managed to develop an artificial general intelligence, something that's equal to us in terms of quote-unquote intelligence, right, which we've already rejected the idea that intelligence is something that is like a hierarchical thing, so that would be an interesting concept to address with AGI, right, because if we look at AGI almost like this god figure, like, oh, we're gonna we're gonna make somebody who's smarter than us, but really it'd just be a different type of intelligence, right, so let's look at it like this.

Okay, so we have AGI coming into play around the same time that we break this non-human intelligence, so we almost go from a planet where there is one species, where there's, if you want to look at it almost in fantasy terms, where there's one species, there's one race, to a planet where now there are a multitude of races, right, so let's say we have AGI, so that's one race, right, then we have humans, that's another race, then we have the orcas, we have the whales, right, we have the whatever they're called, they, then we have the bonobos, we have the, you know, the more intelligent animals, right, because we can assume that if we can develop the AGI, given SETI's study that just dropped that basically proved that you could, in theory, use AI to communicate with whales and learn that language, we can assume that we would probably be able to contact these other, quote-unquote, more primitive species, and so now suddenly you have humans being able to contact whales, we're able to have conversation with whales in some way, shape, or form, it's probably impossible for me to imagine at the moment because it doesn't exist yet, right, same thing with more dolphins, you know, chimps, whatever, gorillas, we have to then ask ourselves, what is this world going to be like, and this is such a radical departure from any type of thinking one can do in the present, that it's fantastical, but it's fantastical in a way that allows us to, in the pull from Mark Fisher, be a little bit ontological, we can imagine, you know, maybe not a lost past, but a lost future, you know, a potential future, and so what happens when humans are able to contact whales, we're able to have discussions and conversations with whales, we're able to go on a boat, and even maybe play a game of chess with a blue whale, right, well what happens when we learn how to contact and make do with the symbols, and like not only some cocos, a gorilla, but only some real actual, like, communication, like with a silverback gorilla, like these are things that are fantastical yet possible within the current framework of technology that we have, and so if we look at these things, what would that mean for humanity?

What could these creatures say to us? Like, how could we learn from them? And these things seem ridiculous, they seem like silly questions to ask, but if you could think about how you could learn from a silverback gorilla, how you might be able to learn from a whale, what type of input these non-human creatures might be able to give us, should the technology arise for them to give us input, not only is this open up your empathy towards the non-human world, it allows you to connect better with humans, it allows you to connect better with your own people, right, by putting yourself so far out of the current system, the current space, you know, you can create a whole framework of thought, you, by creating, once you, like, once you put the, let's put it like this, once you have the setting, right, once you have the location, then you can do the landscaping, right? You can't do the landscaping until you have the location, so what we're basically doing is we're creating that location, and that location is sort of like post-capitalist, post-speciesist, post-human centrist, you know, more in tune, yet more technologically advanced humanity, similar to like a Star Trek type vibe, right, and we can put ourselves into this scenario, what would we be able to learn, what would we be able to find out, and I think they would have a lot to say, you know, the blue whales are probably like, hey man, your sonar for your ships is, my brother is deaf because he got blasted with that sonar, you know, like, you not do that, and, but there you go, I don't have to actually communicate with the whale to figure that out, I can take the framework of that, and then apply it to the current present, and go, oh, we shouldn't be using sonar on our ships, like, because it's fucking up the whales, you see what I'm saying?