We have met Bernie Madoff and he is us

A few months ago, the latest wall humans had erected between themselves and the animal world crumbled when scientists at the University of Colorado revealed evidence of moral sensibility in all mammals. At the time, I asked readers if they could think of a uniquely human trait. I was hoping someone would suggest conservation, the curious tendency of humans to care for other species even when they do not seem to serve our interests. But True/Slant’s own Andrea Spiegel offered another insightful notion:
Still the only species that can dream up and successfully pull off (for a good while, at least) a $65 billion Ponzi scheme.”
Andrea may be more correct than she even intended, and Bernie Madoff’s $65 billion scam may be a mere microcosm. If you’re looking to fill your Labor Day with environmental doom, University of Washington Professor David P. Barash documents our Ponzi scheme with the natural world at length in The Chronicle of Higher Education, and he even dips his toe in some mammalian morality:
Everybody hates Bernard Madoff, and for good reason. He bilked hundreds—thousands—of people out of billions, perhaps tens of billions, of dollars, destroyed numerous life savings, ruined the future prospects of many of those who had trusted him, all the while living in ostentatious, and, it is now painfully clear, despicable luxury….
As pleasurable as it is to cast stones at genuine villains, let’s pause and redeploy the above housing metaphor, as in “people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.” Or try a biblical admonition, as in Matthew 7:3: “And why beholds thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but consider not the beam that is in thine own eye?”
Because the horrifying reality is that in our fundamental relationship to the natural world—which is, after all, the fundamental relationship for everyone—we are all Madoffs….
Make no mistake: Our current relationship to the world ecosystem is nothing less than a pyramid scheme, of a magnitude that dwarfs anything ever contemplated by Charles Ponzi, who, before Madoff, was the best-known practitioner of that dark art. Modern civilization’s exploitation of the natural environment is not unlike the way Madoff exploited his investors, predicated on the illusion that it will always be possible to make future payments owing to yet more exploitation down the road: more suckers, more growth, more GNP, based—as all Ponzi schemes are—on the fraud of “more and more,” with no foreseeable reckoning, and thus, the promise of no comeuppance, neither legal nor economic nor ecologic. At least in the short run.
In the long term? We’re all dead, along with the planet.
via The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Our exploitation of nature does make us seem unique in scale, as species go, though not much different in nature than any rampant fungus.

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