Humanity’s place in nature or, Why can’t I shit in the woods?

Lister: Why does it have to be such a big deal? Why can’t it be like, like, human beings are a planetary disease? Like the Earth’s got German measles or facial herpes, right? And that’s why all of the other planets give us such a wide berth. It’s like, “Oh, don’t go near Earth! It’s got human beings on it, they’re contagious!”
Rimmer: So you’re saying, Lister, you’re an intergalactic, pus-filled cold sore. At last, Lister, we agree on something.
~Red Dwarf, “Waiting for God”

What is humanity’s place in nature? It’s hard for me to sum up what I’m getting at here, so I’ll just dive right in with an example.

Crapping in the woods. Crap is biodegradable. It’s hard to get more “natural” than crap. But we’re advised to pack our crap out with us when hiking in the woods because we want to “take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.” Which is to say, our crap is unnatural and doesn’t belong. I don’t doubt the power of a thousand people’s crap on some popular trail in Yellowstone to become a problem. But has environmentalism so removed us from nature that we can’t take a shit in the woods without packing it out (in some nice little petroleum-based plastic baggie, probably)?

Because in some ways, I feel less like a citizen of Spaceship Earth and more like gum on the bottom of a shoe somewhere. Oh, yuck, it’s a human. Well, thanks, way to make me feel like I belong here. Which should be the point of environmentalism, right? For me to recognize that I’m a fellow member of a biotic community. But I have to take my poop with me when I leave, thanks, goodbye, humans are second-class citizens. It’s like we’re subjecting ourselves to the opposite of anthropocentrism. We’ve shifted too far in favor of every-other-species-centrism and are now discriminating against ourselves, but of course, only morally. To functionally discriminate against ourselves would require some form of asceticism and that’s not going to go over well with the public at large, but somehow it’s okay to publicly berate ourselves for just existing in time and space and taking a dump while we’re at it.

Of course, it’s not so easy as to just suddenly declare ourselves full citizens and start shitting everywhere. It’s one of those things where if a couple people crap in the woods, it’s fine and eco-friendly. If everyone craps in the woods, we’re going to have problems.

So no, I really don’t have a good response on how to not feel like a second-class citizen, at least not in a universally applicable way. So this post isn’t really constructive at all. There’s a problem, one that’s been discussed before, that no one has any idea how to solve.

But I think the first step any of us can make in the direction of a solution is to quit demonizing ourselves. To quit that knee-jerk “humanity is bad” response. There’s seven billion of us, almost. Anything multiplied seven billion times is probably not going to be environmentally friendly (aside from breathing). That doesn’t mean it’s automatically of the devil.

Besides, sewage treatment plants probably aren’t all that, either.


3 Responses to “Humanity’s place in nature or, Why can’t I shit in the woods?”

  1. I feel like the “pack it out” thing must have come from some aesthetic “ewwww, I don’t want to see THAT on the pretty trails!” ideology and just blew up into the “nature is pristine, humans are not, let’s keep them separate” thing. It’s overkill in trying to preserve what wilderness is left.

  2. WhiteFox Says:

    Yea, I don’t get it either. I’ve crapped plenty of times in the woods because there’s no bathroom around, and the plants did not wither and die from my evil turds of human doom.

    I don’t think we have to worry about everyone emptying their bowls under the trees anytime soon. Nobody wants mosquito bites on their rear, and it poses health issues that most would not want to risk.

  3. I take a shuvl, not baggies.

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